Tuesday, March 22, 2016

It was July 1943, somewhere in the middle of the equatorial Pacific.

Louis Zamperini and two other men had been drifting in a rubber life raft that they had called home for some three and a half weeks.

They had survived the plane crash that claimed the lives of eight of their comrades and were now drifting helplessly toward enemy territory with no food or water. This, it would turn out, was only the midway point in their odyssey.

The meager provisions they had found in the raft had run out within the first week. The men had so far survived by eating what birds, fish and sharks they could catch with their bare hands and drinking what water they could collect from the occasional squall that passed over them. Before this voyage was through, one man would die and the other two would lose almost 60 percent of their body mass.

Scientists tell us that you can live three to five days without water. Even less if exposed to direct sunlight. It had been a week since Louis and his companions had had a sip. They were dying and they knew it.

Louis had never been a religious man. His family was at best nominally Catholic.

But this day he was desperate. He had no where else to turn so he began to pray, “Lord, if you get me through this, if you bring me home alive, I will seek you and serve you the rest of my life.”

Within the hour, a squall appeared. The men desperately paddled into the rain with upturned faces drinking in the heavenly water and collecting what they could in their empty water tins. They had been saved. Several more times they would be without water. Each time they prayed, the rains would come.

After 47 days at sea, they were rescued by the Japanese Navy and interred for 27 months. Having been a famous athlete, Louis was singled out for propaganda purposes and beaten mercilessly in the hopes that he could be broken and be willing to make broadcasts for Radio Tokyo.

He could not be broken, but he was damaged. He developed what we know today to be Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and brought this home with him at the war’s end.

Louis’ physical deprivation at the hands of his captors and in the open sea had ended his athletic career. He unsuccessfully tried many business ventures only to end up broke and angry. Angry with the Japanese for what they did to him, angry with his failures, and angry with his PTSD.

The man that could not be broken by his captors had finally been broken by hatred and alcohol abuse. Once more he found himself with no where else to turn.

At the urging of his wife, Louis attended a tent meeting in Los Angeles by a new evangelist by the name of Billy Graham. During the sermon, Louis was brought back to that moment on the raft when he prayed for rain and realized that although God brought him home alive, Louis had reneged on his promise to seek and serve the Lord.

Feeling ashamed, he went forward and dedicated his life to Christ. Immediately he knew he was done fighting, drinking and hating. His PTSD miraculously disappeared. Soon after, he returned to Japan on a mission and forgave his former captors face to face.

He dedicated the rest of his life in service to others, testifying of his experience and conversion, and establishing a youth camp, which is still in service today under The Louis Zamperini Foundation and its partners.

Luke Zamperini is the son of the late Louis Zamperini and chairman of the Louis Zamperini Foundation.

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