Last summer, I found myself enraptured by the guest on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Talking softly but directly, the guest – a gentleman well beyond prime showbiz years – was talking about fighting in the second World War, fending off sharks, and finding Jesus.
Turns out, Louie Zamperini was discussing his biography, “Unbroken,” by Laura Hillenbrand. At age 96, this veteran’s life story is more speckled than the fictional journey of Forrest Gump.
Zamperini’s early years as a thieving youth were eventually overshadowed by his ability to run very, very quickly. This speed led him to compete in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, where he briefly met Adolf Hitler and narrowly avoided a bloody run in with Nazis.
Although Zamperini planned to claim the gold in future Olympic Games, a brewing world war thwarted those plans. Zamperini joined the U.S. Air Corps as a bombardier, participating in a successful raid on Wake Island where he escaped mostly unharmed but his B-24, “the Flying Coffin,” was ruined. Later, Zamperini and the rest of his crewmates would find themselves torn apart, with the majority of them drowning in a fiery crash in the Pacific Ocean. Drifting at sea for 47 days, he survived shark attacks, brutal weather conditions, starvation and dehydration, and even rapid fire from a Japanese Zero fighter jet.