30 on 30: Louis Zamperini
Welcome to this installment of the TJC DBO series: "30 on 30”
Throughout scripture we read many names for our God; one of which is El Gibbor - recognizing God as the mighty warrior and champion.
In 2 Samuel, Chapter 23, verses 8-39, we read a list of David’s mighty men, the Gibbor - the list of men who bring about Great Victory. These are men who personify Psalms 112:1-10 who fear God and obey God.
Over 30 days of DBOs, 30 authors and guests will be exploring the lives of 30 Gibbors, mighty men, mighty warriors who across the ages have feared and obeyed God. This will likely include Pastors, Saints, Martyrs, Coaches, Athletes, Politicians, and others who we can read and learn about as mighty men of God. Our goal is to motivate you to learn more about these mighty men, whose shoulders we can stand on, as we learn from their decisions across the generations of battlefields.
“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Mark 11:25
I thought Forrest Gump was only a Hollywood story of mythic proportions until I learned about the Torrance Tornado, Louis Zamperini. A first-generation Italian boy, prone to trouble with fast fists and a fast mouth, he channeled that energy into running and set the US high school mile record in 1932 at 4 minutes, 21 seconds. Louis qualified for the 1936 Berlin Olympics at age 19, and while finishing 8th ran the fastest lap to finish the race, which caught the attention of Hitler who insisted on meeting the boy with the fast finish.
Zamperini set the collegiate mile record in 1938 (stood for 15 years) and was setting his sights on the 1940 Olympics when World War II intervened. Zamperini enlisted in the Army Air Corps as a Bombadier on the B-24 Liberator. In April 1943 during a bombing mission against Nauru, Zamperini’s aircraft was attacked by three Japanese Zeros. Five aircrewmen were wounded, and Zamperini administered first aid to all of them, credited with saving two of their lives as the aircraft barely made it home and had 500 bullet holes. A month later while on a search and rescue mission in a different B-24, the plane had mechanical difficulties and had to ditch into the ocean. Of the 11 men on board, only Zamperini and two others survived.
Zamperini drifted at sea for 47 days, catching birds for food and bait, battling sharks and being strafed by Japanese bombers. He drifted to the Marshall Islands where he was taken captive by the Japanese and severely beaten and held captive in a number of POW camps for over 2 years until the war ended. Due to his valued status as a POW, Zamperini was singled out and suffered unspeakable brutality at the hands of particular prison guard Mutsuhiro Watanabe, “the Bird”. The United States did not have any knowledge of Zamperini’s survival at sea, and declared him missing, and then officially killed in action until it was discovered he was still alive at the end of the war.
Zamperini attempted to move on with life and married in 1946, but the horrors and nightmares of the POW camps haunted him and he turned to alcohol, drinking heavily and on the brink of divorce by 1949. At the urging of his wife, he attended a Billy Graham crusade, gave his lift to Christ, dumped out his alcohol and begin on a life journey of evangelism and forgiveness. Zamperini’s journey of forgiveness took him back to Japan in 1950 where he personally forgave many of the POW guards who had beaten him (some of who became Christians due to this), and again in 1988 where he carried the Olympic torch in Nagano. During his Nagano trip he requested to meet with the Bird to share his forgiveness, but the Bird declined so Zamperini sent him a letter stating he forgave him. Zamperini also started Victory Boys Camp, a camp for troubled youth.
Daily Battle Order:
What can we as men learn from this mighty warrior and survivor? We can learn that it wasn’t 47 days at sea or 2+ years in brutal POW Camps that held Zamperini captive as a prisoner or almost finally did him in, it was the unforgiveness in his soul. An unforgiveness not even he could outrun with all his speed. An unforgiveness only conquered only by a heart surrendered to Christ and a will that specifically and volitionally acts to forgive. Unforgiveness will attempt to take us all captive at one time or another for we as men will suffer wrongdoing at the hands of others. But let Louis Zamperini’s own words guide our actions:
“The one who forgives never brings up the past to that person's face. When you forgive, it's like it never happened. True forgiveness is complete and total.” – Louis Zamperini