By J. Scott Uloth, MD
Nursing Home Specialist
Parkview Care Center
Journalist Tom Brokaw is credited with coining the phrase that the people of the World War II era belonged to “the greatest generation.” In her 2010 book Unbroken: A World War II story of survival, resilience and redemption, author Laura Hillenbrand provides a riveting true story from that generation that would become Time magazine’s number one Best Book of that year.
Unbroken tells the story of Louis “Louie” Zamperini, who with his Italian immigrant parents, moved from New York to Torrance, Calif. When he arrived not speaking a word of English, he was a target for bullies. Quickly learning to defend himself, he was saved from a life of delinquency by his brother, Pete. When Louie started running track, it became apparent that the “Torrance Tornado,” as he would later be known, had a remarkable gift. He went to USC and qualified at age 19 for the 5000 meters at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
When war broke out, he joined the Army Air Corps. Just like Jimmy Stewart and other prominent athletes and celebrities of the day, he put defense of his country above his fame. In May 1943, he was flying in a B-24 Liberator on a search and rescue mission hundreds of miles from Hawaii when his plane went down, killing eight of the 11 crew. He and his friends survived on a raft 47 days, fending off sharks, dehydration, and strafing attacks as they floated deeper into Japanese waters.
Louie’s story of survival would not end there, as they were rescued by the Japanese and submitted to two and a half years of brutal torture (veterans should be warned about the extended and difficult depictions within this work). When Zamperini is freed and returns to the United States, he is haunted by PTSD, a disorder yet to find a voice, and drinks heavily as he plots his revenge.
Fortunately, at his lowest hour, his wife takes him to a Billy Graham crusade in Los Angeles. Forgiveness floods his heart, and in 1950 he returns to Japan to face some of his previous tormentors who are shocked by the genuine grace of this warrior. In 1998, at age 81, he participated in the Olympic torch relay for the Nagano Winter Games. At age 96, the “Torrance Tornado” still speaks to groups across the country.
Mr. Zamperini’s story reminded me of the debt we owe “the greatest generation,” the unbroken strength of the human spirit, and the transforming power of a loving, forgiving God. Author Hillenbrand is splendid in her research and brings the story to life in all phases.
I would like to put in a brief plug for electronic readers such as the Kindle, Nook and iPad. Since one can adjust the font size, they make an excellent choice for older readers (my wife would say they aren’t too shabby for the middle aged ones as well), and books may be purchased for about $10 or can actually be obtained electronically from the public library for free.
Dr. Uloth completed his first two years of medical school on the University of Southern Indiana campus and graduated from the Indiana University School of Medicine in 1992. He will be a speaker at Mid-America Institute on Aging, co-sponsored by the University of Southern Indiana and SWIRCA & More. More information is at http://health.usi.edu/chaw/default.asp.