This is Barb Lewis and I just finished one of the best books I've ever read. The title is Unbroken: A World War ll Story of Survivial, Resilence, and Redemption, by Laura Hillerbrand. She spent seven years writing this.
This is the true story of Louie Zamperini, son of immigrant Italians who moved to CA in the 1930's. He had an extremely troubled childhood, which, I think, later helped him during his time as a prisoner of war in World War ll.
He became one of the greatest track stars and won a scholarship to the University of Southern California. He was one of the youngest to compete in the 1936 Olympics, which were held in Germany. He shook Hitler's hand there and was almost arrested for stealing a Nazi flag to take home as a souvenir. It was thought his chances to win gold in the 1940 Olympics were good but then the war started.
Louie was drafted into the Army Air Corps as a B-24 bombardier. While he was searching for a downed plane in the middle of the ocean, his plane was hit. He and three fellow soldiers were adrift on two inflatable rafts. The descriptions are vivid about the heat, thirst, sharks, starvation, and a Japanese plane that kept firing at them. One comrade perished and one raft was lost. 47 days went by on the raft and then - captured!
This is the deeply disturbing story of his time as a POW in Japanese war camps. He suffered beatings, torture and constant threats of execution. A Japanese corporal, nicknamed The Bird, knew of Louie's fame in the Olympics, seemed jealous of it and focused his beatings on him. Brutality and inhumanity are words that don't even begin to describe it.
When the war was finally over Louie was sent home, after two-and-a-half years as a prisoner. He hadn't seen his family for four years and had officially been declared dead.
It was so difficult for him to return to "normal" life, full of rage, having flashbacks of the beatings and The Bird. His wife was finally able to drag him to a young Billy Graham camp meeting. That ultimately turned his life around and he later became an inspirational speaker and advocate for troubled youth. In 1998, when he was 81, he ran a leg of the relay with the Olympic torch for the Olympics in Japan. It was not far from the POW camps he had been held in.
He died in July, 2014, at the age of 97. The movie of his life, Unbroken, came out last December. Peace and forgiveness, he said, was what he learned. One of the things I took away from this book is, if you think your life is difficult, this should put things into perspective! He came away from all he went through, unbroken. Amazing story, amazing man.