Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption is a 2010 non-fiction book by Laura Hillenbrand. Unbroken is a biography of World War II hero Louis Zamperini, a former Olympic track star who survived for more than two and a half years in several Japanese internment camps. It will be made into a movie by Universal Studios.
[Hillenbrand] knew she had found her next subject when she spoke to a then-octogenarian Louis Zamperini on the phone and the wisecracking spirit of that bygone age came through loud and clear: "I'll be an easier subject than Seabiscuit," Zamperini said, "because I can talk." He sure can and sure did — for seven years' worth of interviews with Hillenbrand. The tale Zamperini has to tell, augmented by mountains of diaries, letters and official documents, is a stunner.
The Zamperini family, he said, moved to Torrance, California in the 1920s, where Louis attended Torrance High School.The son of Italian immigrants, Louis spoke no English when his family moved to California, which made him a target for bullies. His father taught Louis how to box for self-defense. Pretty soon, according to Louis, he was “beating the tar out of every one of them… But I was so good at it that I started relishing the idea of getting even. I was sort of addicted to it.”
As Zamperini entered his teenage years, he found an outlet for some of the energy that had led him to mischief: competitive distance running. Before long, he had set the interscholastic record in the mile. “Newspapers started calling me Zamp the Champ,” he says. “I relished every moment in the limelight, knowing at last I could make something of myself…. I won a scholarship to the University of Southern California and, at 18, I made the US Olympic track team in 1936 to compete in Germany.”
At the Berlin Games Zamperini’s final lap time of 57 seconds impressed German Chancelor Adolph Hitler enough to command a personal audience with "...the American boy with the fast finish." True to form and before departing for home, the troublemaker turned champion runner stole a Nazi flag off the Reich's Chancellery. Caught by the Gestapo, Zamperini convincingly talked his way out of the predicament and proudly brought the flag home.
“My first combat mission left Kualoa Field, Oahu, on Christmas Eve of 1942,” Zamperini recalls. “We plastered the Japanese at Wake Island. Six missions later, Nauru, Makin, and Tarawa islands saw our B-24 bomber riddled with 600 bullet holes, with half our crew dead or wounded and one wheel and the right tail shot off. Luckily, even in the face of incredible danger, we landed safely.”
In September of 1941, Louis Zamperini enlisted in the United States Air Force. After flying several missions, on May 27, 1943, his aircraft went down due to mechanical failure. Stranded for 47 days in the Pacific Ocean, Zamperini and the only other surviving crew member (Pilot Russ Philips) were captured by the Japanese Navy. Zamperini was held as a prisoner of war until the end of the war.
Anyone who enjoyed Hillenbrand's previous book, Seabiscuit, will know that she has a fine line in compelling narrative. Unbroken is no different: meticulously researched and powerful. The reader, unlike the airmen, would rather the days adrift went on longer. They end, however, in grim style. Zamperini and fellow survivor are in sight of land when they are captured by Japanese forces. Incarceration as a PoW, especially if taken by the Japanese, was a horrible business.
Here is the story that few PoW books have bothered to tell: of a man struggling to escape an inescapable past. There are no tunnels, no mass breakouts, no climbing the wire. This is an altogether more secure prison and the chief torturer is his own mind. What makes the story so fascinating is the parallel tale that Hillenbrand has unearthed, of Watanabe on the run in rural Japan after the war.
Louis Zamperini is one of America’s greatest heroes. An Olympic runner and WWII POW, his inspirational life story was recently chronicled by Pulitzer Prize winning author, Laura Hillenbrand in the book Unbroken. Today Zamperini travels the world sharing his amazing life story: his challenges, his obstacles, his will to live, and about the people who helped him along the way.
From the author of Seabiscuit, Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken (Random House) is more than just a war story... Through astonishingly detailed research—the author had access to Zamperini (still alive at 93), his family, and several of his fellow captives as well as information about his captors—Hillenbrand tells a clear-eyed tale of yet another underestimated creature who tried hard, ran fast, and miraculously beat the odds.