I recently read an article about how Hollywood movies often changed a real life ending in order to make a happy ending. (As if audiences could not handle the truth.) One of the films men- tioned was Unbroken. And I could not agree with the article more.
Unbroken is a story of a real-life American hero. We throw that word about, but Louis Zamperini, who died in 2014, was a real American hero.
Zamperini was a bit of a miscreant growing up. We would label him ADHD. He liked to fight. He liked to get into trouble. But somewhere along the way he discovered how to focus all of his energy, into running. He was known as the Torrance (California) Tornado and he competed at the 1936 Berlin Olympics and actually met good old Adolf. Like many in his generation, he went off to war and worked as a bombardier on a B-24 bomber. In May of 1943, he and his crew were searching for another downed plane in the Pacific, when their plane had issues (B-24 were famous for that) and they crashed in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Three men survived the crash and began a 47 day ordeal, with little food and no water on a flimsy life raft. They could feel the dorsal fins of sharks under the raft. Somehow, someway, Louis and one other crewmate survived.
Then things got worse.
They landed on an island and were immediately captured by the Japanese. For the next two years, Louis Zamperini would be a Prisoner of War and would be the sport of a sadistic guard nicknamed “The Bird.” The torture that Zamperini went through, physical as well as psychological, are horrific. “The Bird” was war criminal #7 when the war ended, so you can almost guess how horrible it was.
But Zamperini survived and made it home. And the movie ends. Hooray! But as the article points out it really wasn’t the happy ending you think it was. Hollywood got it wrong.
Now the article states that the part that the filmmakers omitted was that “he strangled his wife” and, although that is technically true, that doesn’t tell the whole story either.
Like most soldiers returning from the horrors of war, Zamperini was haunted. But you don’t come back home from all of that without being scarred, without being damaged. Zamperini may have been “unbroken,” but he certainly wasn’t flourishing. As the book recounts (I HIGHLY recommend the book, skip the movie) one fateful night Louie was hunched over his wife in their bed with his hands around her throat. Luckily, he was thrown off before he could permanently harm her. Nevertheless, Zamperini needed help.
This is where Hollywood, as usual, missed a big chance. If they would have included what happened they would have made billions of dollars, but they have no respect for their audience, especially their religious audience.
So how did Zamperini survive, how did he get past the nightmare, how did he move on from the terror? It was God. His wife took him to a Billy Graham revival and he was converted. He knew he had to leave his hatred, he knew he had to leave his bitterness, he knew he had to take on a new and lighter yoke, the yoke of forgiveness.
And he did.
Zamperini traveled to Japan and met with some of his former guards (not the Bird) and he embraced them, forgave them. It is almost too un- believable to be true, but it is. Mr. Zamperini for- gave his tormentors and enjoyed a successful career running a center for troubled youth. He even reached out to The Bird. “As a result of my prisoner of war experience under your unwarranted and unreasonable punishment,” Mr. Zamperini wrote his former guard in the 1990s, “my post- war life became a nightmare … but thanks to a confrontation with God … I committed my life to Christ. Love replaced the hate I had for you.” He got no reply.
This Memorial Day, I will keep in my prayers all those who served, who gave their lives, and some who gave their souls, so that we might know freedom. I will pray for those like Louie Zamperini.