Article written by Clay Sterrett & Dave Sterrett
Louis Zamperini is a true World War II hero, whose story has been vividly portrayed in the N.Y. Times bestseller, Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand . Angelina Jolie’s new film does a good job showing the first half of Louis’ story. What Zamperini endured in those war years was a most remarkable story of endurance. Yet Jolie leaves out that Zamperini was a very broken man when he returned to the United States. He became an alcoholic and a poor husband. He was filled with hatred and unforgiveness towards the guard who tortured him. Louis constantly had nightmares of the guard torturing him. Jolie’s film shows portions of Hillenbrand’s story in which Zamperini was an Olympic runner, who was on target to become the first American to break the four minute mile, but when war broke out, he joined the U.S. Air Force.
On one rescue mission, due to engine troubles, their B-24 airplane crashed into the Pacific Ocean, but Zamperini and two other crew members amazingly survived the impact. Then, they lived the next 47 days on a couple life rafts, just barely surviving starvation, constant shark attacks, and being shot at directly by a Japanese bomber. One man died, but the other two men finally reached the Marshall Islands – only to be captured by Japanese soldiers.
Zamperini would spend the next two and a half years spent in various prisons, where American prisoners were treated very cruelly. One big, sadistic Japanese guard, named Matsuhiro (“The Bird”) seemed to have a demonic hatred especially bent toward Zamperini. Just about anytime they would cross paths, this guard would pound Zamperini in the face, sometimes with a belt buckle on his hand. About half of the story in Unbroken describes the horrible, humiliating suffering Zamperini and others endured in these Japanese prisons. It is truly the hand of God that he survived, especially at the end of the war, when Japanese soldiers normally killed all POW’s before fleeing, but in this case, they fled, and the prisoners were left to be rescued.
Louis shocked friends and family by returning back home alive and he was an instant celebrity. However, the celebrity status produced little income and he soon found himself in a quick marriage, which turned bad, and then he became more addicted to alcohol. Every night he was tormented by nightmares of the guard, Matsuhiro, attacking him. All this changed, however, in 1949 when he attended a big tent crusade in Los Angeles, where a young, popular speaker, Billy Graham, was preaching. Filled with brokenness, Louis went forward in the second night to trust in Jesus Christ, whose body was broken on a cross. Louis returned home, poured out all his liquor, and slept peacefully for the first time in years. He never again had a nightmare of Matsuhiro. He was truly a new man in Christ.
A few years later, Zamperini had an opportunity to go back and visit some of the former Japanese guards, now prisoners themselves. He and other Christians shared the love and forgiveness of Christ to these former tormentors, who were greatly surprised. Zamperini never saw Matsuhiro in his visits, but he sent him this letter. Matsuhiro never responded before his death, but Zamperini had obeyed the Lord in forgiving this former enemy.
To Matsuhiro [sic] Watanabe,
As a result of my prisoner of war experience under your unwarranted and unreasonable punishment, my post-war life became a nightmare. It was not so much due to the pain and suffering as it was the tension of stress and humiliation that caused me to hate with a vengeance…
The post-war nightmares caused my life to crumble, but thanks to a confrontation with God through the evangelist Billy Graham, I committed my life to Christ. Love replaced the hate I had for you. Christ said, “Forgive your enemies and pray for them.”
As you probably know, I returned to Japan in 1952 [sic] and was graciously allowed to address all the Japanese war criminals at Sugamo Prison … At that moment, like the others, I also forgave you and now would hope that you would also become a Christian.
What amazing forgiveness! You, too, can forgive – even your greatest enemies – because Jesus Christ suffered the terrible abuse and torments of men, and yet he chose to forgive us. While hanging on the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) Therefore, you must also “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Col.3:13) To hear the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association special on the rest of the Louis Zamperini story download here: Billy Graham Video.
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