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Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
World War II was one of the darkest periods of human history. Tales of destruction and torture are just sentences of the book that is WWII. Mankind was dauntingly unaware of what we are really capable of. Resilience and the ability to overcome combined with the human spirit allow for anything to be possible. This is demonstrated time and time again through the hardships of Louis Zamperini.
Louis Zamperini grew up with very little money. In order to survive, he learned to steal. He would snatch up bread from a local shop and then run. He did what he had to and made do with what he could get. From there his brother turned his mischievous ways into a new subject, running. Louis joined the track team and began to mentally and physically train. Day in and day out Louis ran and ran. He became the hometown hero with scholarships and a shot at the Olympic team. His dedication and perseverance landed him a spot on the 1936 Olympic team who was to compete in Berlin. He showed everyone what he was capable of.
At this race, Louis would be racing the best competition available, and that’s how he wanted it. Louis set his sights on being the best and no one was to get in his way. For Louis, “A lifetime of glory is worth a moment of pain.” (34). At the time of the race Louis’s sprits were high and his mine was set, he was going to win. During the race another competitor spike Louis shins, severely injuring him and causing him to lose pace. Louis was not going to let this stop him and persevered to finish second in the race. Louis wasn’t happy with the results and no foul play was recorded. His spirit was not broken, but the next Olympics were all he could think about.
After finishing the Olympics, WWII broke out. Louis joined the air force and was stationed in the Pacific Ocean. He and his crew flew a B-24, also known as “Flying Coffins”. His team nicknamed the plane, Superman and painted it accordingly. Louis never really wanted to be on a plane and needed to overcome his fear of flying. He applied his mental and physical strength from running towards keeping his stomach intact. This drew heavily on Louis confidence, but his newly acquired best friend, Phil, helped him keep it together. The stress of losing many close friends, watching planes leave and never returned took, and being in a war took a huge toll on everyone. Louis put it like this, “Only the laundry knew how scared I was.” (78) This all culminated with a dreadful flight resulting in five hundred and ninety four bullet holes and the loss of many crew members. Despite the odds, Louis and Phil managed to get the plane home and save what was left of the crew. The engineers couldn’t explain how the plane managed to make it back and proved how anything was possible.
After the destruction of their plane, Louis and Phil were very resilient and were resigned to a new crew on a death trap known as the “Green Hornet”. It was a B-24 just like their previous plane, but it had a history of problems. No one wanted to fly it and no one believed it should. However, they need all the men they could get and the “Green Hornet” was sent up. Flying over the Pacific Ocean a catastrophic failure occurred and the “Green Hornet” plummeted into the blue abyss. Louis blacked out, but awoke on the surface clinging to a piece of the plane. A yellow raft was inflated nearby and appeared to have two figures inside.
The crash should have killed them all, but in the raft was Phil and another man, Mac. They had no radio, little rations, and no way out. The elements beat down on them day in and day out. Louis lost nearly half his body weight as well as Phil and Mac. Phil and Louis managed to hold it together, but Mac lost it. He lost the will to live and consumed every ration on the raft. He lost all hope, and without hope there is nothing.
Mac died soon after and Louis and Phil were forced to bury him at sea. Day after day Louis and Phil drifted about the ocean, fending off sharks and catching birds for food. Phil and Louis almost lost hope many times, but they were able to restore each other’s faiths. Their will to survive and their strength from within allowed for them to do what was seemingly impossible, live. This process went on for many weeks and culminated in grueling perseverance that had never been seen before. Nearly a month after being adrift at sea, the burnt yellow raft washed ashore a Japanese Island.
This was a Japanese prisoner of war, or POW, camp. Louis and Phil were imprisoned, tortured, and starved. Their conditions were only slightly better than the raft and it took all their strength to stay alive. Louis and Phil were split up and transported to different locations. Louis would end of encountering a guard named Watanabe who would prove to be the devil himself. Watanabe forced Louis through hell on Earth, singling him out from the rest and personally beating him several times a day. Louis was already a walking skeleton, now he was a beaten and bruised skeleton. Louis would take a beating no man could bare then still manage to stand up, only to be stricken down again. Louis demonstrated the highest-level perseverance and resilience, he was not going to be put down and he was willing to die for. Louis spirit could never be broken and it never would. He was set on surviving, even against the odds.
Many grueling months turned into even worse years. The war dragged on, and Louis stayed in-prisoned. Louis was pushed to the breaking point, until one day a US plane flew over and dropped a crate. The guards had been acting strange lately and when the crate fell, not a guard was in sight. This crate contained supplies and messages stating the war was over. Louis was finally free. Looking back upon his “experience”, Louis stated “If I knew I had to go through those experiences again, I'd kill myself.” (321) This statement summarizes the gravity of the situation and the pure strength it took to overcome those terrible experiences. Louis demonstrated how the human spirit combined with the ability to overcome enables you to accomplish anything, even those you didn’t deem possible.
Post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a relatively new concept. Back when Louis left the war there wasn’t much help. Louis turned to alcoholism and spiraled down, just like his plane. Nothing could pull him from his alcoholic induced free fall. His spirit wasn’t broken, but very close. It demonstrated what happens when you lose hope. Without hope, Louis almost destroyed his marriage and himself. It took years until a random religious sermon sparked something inside of him. He began to turn his life around and began to bounce back. His resilience was so strong that others saw, once again, what he was capable of. However, the war never really ended for Louis until years and years later. Louis visited the POW camp that he was held in. Inside the camp, his previous captors were now imprisoned themselves. Upon walking into the jail, Louis saw his captors and “At that moment, something shifted sweetly inside him. It was forgiveness, beautiful and effortless and complete. For Louie Zamperini, the war was over.” (379). This just shows another shining example of the ability of mankind to overcome and bounce back from anything
WW2 brought out the worst of mankind, but it gave light to the endless possibilities we can overcome. It showed how the human spirit could not be broken and how anything was possible. Louis Zamperini embodies the best aspects of mankind. His resilience, ability to overcome, and the everlasting spirit enables us to see what everyone we capable of. Nothing can compare to the strength inside every one of us.