Seeing myself lose gratitude for the life I was living, I decided to pick up a book which could sprout in me the feeling of being fortunate. Thanks to my trusted gauge Goodreads, I picked up Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand as my guide.
The book describes the story of former Olympic runner Louis “Louie” Zamperini and his experiences during WW2 .The initial part of the book illustrates a restless, relentless troublemaker Louie. He has a knack for getting into trouble and the gift to let himself free from any situation. Due to his headstrong brother, he lets go of his insincerity and enters professional running. The story of a Zamperini’s rise to an Olympic runner hooks one to the book. The story itself along with the crisp focus and description of the events makes his early life a thrilling and an inspiring read.
The second part describes his time as a commander in the US Air Force. The description of the wartime life of a soldier is poles apart from that by Joseph Heller in Catch 22 which sublimely presents the imagery with an undercurrent of satire and humour. Hillenbrand presents an ominous setting to the dangers to which men put their lives forward to on each mission. The army’s allegiance to the nation and men is not exaggerated. Zamperini’s refusal to announce Japanese propaganda on radio under life-threatening conditions is a testament to this fact. By not revealing Mac’s weakness for food on their first night on the raft to the public, both Louie and Captain Phillips set a precedent for camaraderie and pay homage to Mac without whom survival would have been improbable.
After some successful missions, Louie finds himself in the Green Hornet which crashes into the Pacific during a search mission. Louie, Phil and Mac survive. Hope was all that they had in the ocean. Strength of mind over body drives Louie and Phil to spare no effort in devising ways to stay alive. Mac’s continually depressive thoughts could have been infectious but the pilot and the bombardier safeguard their minds from the abyss of negativity through mental creations.
Wise people say “Don’t make promises that you can’t keep “, but perhaps the very purpose of promises lies in the will to fulfil them. One cannot fail to notice that it was his ‘promise’ to his fiancée Cecy of marrying her after the war that drove Phil through such hardships.
The two men knew what fate held for them when they were found. I would not dwell on the mistreatment and the inhumane attitude of the Japanese guards towards POW’s. My mind could only conjure a blurry image of the atrocities committed, something I shall not be and would never wish to comprehend.
As I read through Louie’s experiences at various POW camps, my mind reeled back to his circumstances on the raft. Getting out of there, alone had been a harrowing experience. Did not experiencing further hardships at the hands of ‘The Bird’ go beyond the realm of human strength to endure such torture and condemnation? Although, both Louie and Phil being alive after World War 2 was fortunate coincidence, they both had gone through utter hopelessness and despair on the raft. I believe the ordeal was the grinding stone for their mental strength. They pushed through and came off even tougher rather than depleted. Louie is, too, quoted in the book saying that time in the ocean gave him mental space that he had never been given before. Phil believed that they wouldn’t last longer than the record of 23 days. They survived 47 days. It is no doubt that their days were doubled as each one had a companion to confide his feelings in.
After returning from war, Louie faces the horrifying nightmares of his torture. The end of his running career due to a broken ankle put out the sun to which Louie would rise to after the storm of dark dreams. With nothing to cling onto, he ends up on wild drinking sprees .He retreats into the selfish cocoon of curing himself of the demon, heedless to the lives around him.
Had he not injured his ankle, he probably would have even gone into professional running and represented America post war. But the question remains: How much would he have recovered from the horrors of war?
He was shaken up through Billy Graham’s preaching when he realized that he was not being a good man in society.His conversion to evangelical Christianity was not meant to serve himself but others. That perhaps is the essence of prayer. One does not take up prayer to only alleviate one’s own suffering, but to be the support in his neighbors’ trials and tribulations.
Plucking the life out of ‘The Bird’ would never have given him the redemption he hoped for. His visit to the prison guards in Sugamo served as the beacon of redemption during times of deep distrust and hatred. The unresentful interview of Watanabe shows us how he had still not given up the war inside him. Louie served as the living example of ‘Forgiveness rises above revenge’. Reading Louie’s story made me believe that perhaps the only true way to live happily is by being grateful. His name is secured in the annals of American athletics but the World shall look up to him as an epitome of forgiveness and redemption.