Lessons from an Extraordinary Life. Louis Zamperini died on July 2, 2014. He had an indomitable courage and fighting spirit for life. He always kept himself occupied by talking and traveling. His biography, Devil at the Heels, was published in 2003. Unbroken was also a film by Angelina Jolie about him. Louis had an exemplary character.
Introduction. I felt sharp even at 97. I was a runner for my high school. I used to run the mile. In the 1936 Olympics, I ran a 56 second final lap and got praised by Hilter. Eventually, I became a bombardier during the WWII. When my plane crashed in the Pacific, I miraculously survived. We grabbed rafts and we ate chocolates and ate fish and sharks that came by. I had a sharp mind and that kept me going. After 33 days, Mac died. Phil and I were left. By day 46, we found Marshall Islands and landed there. However, the Japanese had established a presence there. We were tortured by the Japanese. When I returned home after the war, I received a hero’s reception. However, I suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. Later, I devoted my life to God. Enduring challenges have gave me many rewards and I do not regret anything I have done. I started an outreach camp program after the War. Reporters were interested to cover my story after the war. Unbroken was one of the NYT bestsellers. I am just an ordinary man who resolved never to give up even in the face of trying circumstances. If you give life a try, you never know that might take you.
Run for Your Life
The Family Rules. We all need a code of ethics to guide us in life. Everyone pitched in to help when we were tight on cash. I worked odd jobs when young. My mum was strict but taught us well. My parents also knew how to play instruments.
Anyone Can Turn Their Life Around. I was often in trouble when young. I also had a self-esteem problem as I couldn’t speak English when young. Also, I hated the way I looked. School fights were common. One day, my dad gave me a punching bag and I trained. I was caught for smoking when I was 9. When I was older, I also like drinking and stole booze whenever I could. We robbed shops of pies and booze. Once in a while, I went to church. Once I beat up a driver because he reported me to the police after I stole his pies. Could I turn my life around? My parent were sick of me getting into trouble time after time. My brother was a better influence than me and wasn’t mischievous. My parents gave me a chance to shine through school sports. The principal encouraged me to sign up. I visited the steel mill and knew that I didn’t want to work there and suffer. I trained hard and sports changed my life and finally I started winning. Pete had much to do with my turn-around. I simply just kept running and never missed a training session.
The Difference Between Attention and Recognition is Self-Esteem. I was mischievous because I wanted recognition. I wanted to be accepted by others. I was also voted into the student-body as president. I had high self-esteem when it came to stealing from shops. However, in school, I suffered from low self-esteem. I was constantly anxious over how I was perceived by others. Self-respect can only be earned by doing something great. My fans and family were a tremendous part for my success. You don’t have to fight this journey alone.
It’s Not How You Win, It’s How You Lose. I raced the 5,000 metres in 1936. However, the officials made a mistake and I collided into another runner, causing me to lose. I was upset as I was winning continuously for 3.5 years. I congratulated Bright, the winner. Back in the day, we competed for the love of the sport. I represented the US at the 5,000m race at the Olympics, but I didn’t win.
That’s the way it should be. If you give everything and you lose, so what? It’s not going to put you in your grave. I walked away knowing I could handle defeat gracefully, and I had more self-esteem from that than from winning the race. – Louis Zamperini
I didn’t win the 5000m race at the Olympics, but making the team and not winning is like going to the moon and stumbling over a rock and falling. So what? You’re still on the moon. – Louis Zamperini
A Race Isn’t Over Until It’s Over. Glenn Cunningham was my hero. He was badly burnt but refused to give up on life. He epitomized resilience and resolve. The runners were not friendly towards me after I bragged that I would do a 4 minute mile. However, I still won in a time of 4:08.03. I won for myself and also for Glenn Cunningham. I didn’t know to accept defeat and kept pushing myself to greater heights. Thankfully, the persistence and perseverance would come in handy during WWII.
Preparation Determines Your Survival. You should be prepared for anything. Every circumstance can be broken down into manageable challenges. When I was stranded at sea, I did not panic and used my first aid skills and learned how to catch fish. Everyone should learn some survival skills. Schools should teach survival skills to kids. I was a Scout and got inspired by Robinsoe Crusoe. As a rock climber, I knew that the ability to tie knots could determine my fate. Survival depends on education, preparation and anticipation.
Anything can happen to anyone, but there are simple rules designed to keep you out of trouble. When you’re hiking off-trail through the wilderness and you make a turn, break a tree branch so you know that’s where you were. – Louis Zamperini
My Survival Kit. You should keep your survival gear near to you. Even a water cape and shower cap can save you from the blistering cold. Use whatever that can help you survive. You always have to be one step ahead in your thinking.
Trust What You Know. The sharks often ate the bait that I laid while trying to catch first. Once, two sharks tried to jump on our raft. Then, we devised a plan to kill it and clutched the tail, however, I couldn’t hold on to it because of its strength. Later, we managed to kill one and we cut its belly. Raw shark meat would make us sick. The shark liver was delicious as it contained a lot of vitamins and protein. Without it, we might have died.
Keep Your Mind Sharp. Do not allow your body and head to rot. The brain must be exercised. Even on the raft, I tried to imagine mental sums and trying to solve them. We described the meals we cooked while on the raft. Phil and I also talked about our futures and that seemed to work. The Japanese interviewers were astounded by our sharpness on Kwajalein – Execution Island. It is imperative to use your brain well. I stayed sharp throughout the interrogation process. Other than Phil and I, no other prisoners made it off Kwajalein alive. I knew there were fake airfields in Hawaii and told the Japanese to bomb them. It was probably because the Jap thought that we would be better used for propaganda purposes.
Don’t Forget to Laugh. Remember to laugh. We had jokes even in Hawaii. We even laughed in POW camp. I felt rats running over my body in the bunk. If you pushed them away, they would bite you. I once made a paddle and smacked it. The rat squeaked in pain, and that got the rest laughing.
You are the Content of Your Character. I spent a year at Ofuna, a secret interrogation facility. Later, I was sent to Omori prison camp and I was also punished. Once, Mutsuhiro Watanabe ‘The Bird’ punished me. He knocked me down after I didn’t want to look at him. He offered me a tissue to wipe away the blood. After, he hit me again. He was a psychopath. The Bird couldn’t handle power as there were many higher ranked officers in the camp. I was extremely pissed and wanted my revenge. Once, I was brought to Radio Tokyo as they wanted me to send a message. In fact, the Japanese were using me to show the Americans that the POWs were being well taken off. They wanted me to claim that I was one of the lucky guys. However, I refused to read it and I’d rather be punished. Even though I transferred a camp, I still realized that ‘Bird’ was in charge again.
Never Let Anyone Destroy Your Dignity. Those soldiers who couldn’t accept their situation suffered the most. I got beaten up by ‘Bird’ but I kept going on and preserving. Bird punched in the stomach, causing me to drop the plank I was holding above my head for 37 minutes. Don’t let anyone destroy your dignity.
The great lesson of my life is perseverance. Never give up. – Louis Zamperini
Hate is a Personal Decision. Hate is just a cover-up and it will destroy you. Hate is a personal decision. Some of the prisoners hated the Japanese so much that they refused to eat. If you hate someone, it destroys your spirit.
The True Definition of a Hero. Being a hero is over-rated and over-used. I have deep respect for public servants like lawyers, doctors, teachers, firefighters etc.Whatever I did in the war, I did it for myself and fellow soldiers. It is important to work for the betterment of everyone.
Let others boast of you, but no with thine own mouth – Louis Zamperini
Attitude is Everything
You Must have Hope. If you tell yourself the war is going to end soon, you have a chance to stay mentally intact.
You must have hope. It rejuvenates your whole being. You can’t allow negative thinking – even if you know your chances are slim. I’m not saying that it’s easy to do, but the ability to envision the road to successful completion is what keeps you alive. – Louis Zamperini
Don’t Ask Why, Ask What’s Next? When you are old, the best form of exercise is walking. Walking keeps my legs strong. Old people shouldn’t give up walking. My attitude towards life remains upbeat even though I am old. The nurses also support me all the way. Having a positive attitude pays off in tremendous ways that you cannot imagine.
If you can’t control your attitude, forget it. You’re going to heal slowly or die young. – Louis Zamperini
You Choose How to View Your Fate. I rather be marooned alone on an island as compared to being caged up in prison. Even if you are stranded on an island, you should view your fate in a more positive fashion.
The Secret of Contentment. I have learnt to be content and react positively to life. I have learnt to accept everything that happens in life. Learn to work with what you have. Acceptance creates cheerfulness, which in turn creates contentment. Attitude is everything.
After the War: Still Lost
You Can’t Run (Or Sail) Away from Yourself. I felt like a celebrity after the war. My wife and I were invited to many functions. I wanted to run for the California state legislature. Your reputation and character are all you have. I wanted to get rich fast and I started trying to sell construction equipment. Sometimes, I still kept thinking about my time in POW. My running was too slow and I knew I couldn’t compete again. I wanted to party and have fun. I decided to take a trip on a boat on an expedition. It was an adventurous trip. It was definitely a joyous trip which I enjoyed thoroughly. The moral of the story is that you can’t run away from your problems and responsibilities.
Don’t Leave the Crucial Details to Others. We went to the Earl Carroll Theatre mostly. Once, we were stranded out at sea because our crew member forgot to top up fuel. We sent out an SOS signal and the plane dropped food to us. I used the mirror to send a morse code. The girls on my boat kept waving at the pilot and the pilot seemed interested in rescuing them. Finally, the Coast Guard saw us and pulled us aboard. The moral of the story: don’t leave the crucial details to someone you don’t know.