Unbroken is an amazing movie about Louis Zamperini. Great movie. I have heard the book is even better. The movie starts with Zamperini getting beaten up just because he was Italian. I had forgotten that there was just as much animosity to the most recent immigrants then, Italians and Irish, as there is against Mexicans and others now, if not more so.
The movie implied that one reason Louie became a good runner was it was the best way to keep from getting beaten up by a group of boys. Although this doesn’t mean he was a coward. It also shows him fighting with the boys.
Running and Track
Then his brother, who is on the track team sees Louie take off when he sees the group of boys. His brother starts pushing him and soon he is the star of the high school track team. Unlike now, in this era track was a big deal and a prestigious sport the way football is now.
Running got him a scholarship to the University of Southern California. He decided to try out for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and made the team. One funny story that wasn’t in the movie was when he took the ship with other athletes to cross the Atlantic. Being in the depression he had never even bought food at a drug store. Apparently the food was included with the price of the ticket and he could eat as much as he wanted, which he did. Most of the athlete’s gained a good bit of weight on the trip. But it wasn’t a bad thing since they had lost so much weight training in intense heat for the Olympic trials in New York.
At the Olympics he beat the American record holder but only came in 8th. However he had the fastest final lap for that event in Olympic history to that point I believe. In college he set the record for the collegiate mile despite being badly cut by the spikes of competitors who were trying to slow him down. It stood for 15 years.
Zamperini enlisted and became a lieutenant and a bombardier on a B-24 in the Pacific. On one run the plane was damaged badly by flak and strafing but they managed to make it back. The plane was useless however and Zamperini and some of the others were reassigned to another plane that had the reputation of being a lemon and rightly so. They were out looking for a crew that had crashed in the water and while looking their engines cut out and they crashed. Only 3 survived the crash. The three of them had 2 life rafts and little food or water.
They survived by catching fish and essentially having sushi. They had to eat them raw. They also caught a couple sea birds and tried to eat them and used them as bait for the fish. As if these problems weren’t enough, they had to deal with sharks that were constantly trying to attack them. Then on top of all that, a Japanese plane strafed them and punctured the rafts. Luckily they were weren’t hit themselves and they were able to plug the leaks and stay afloat.
One thing that bothered me was that Zamperini seemed to maintain a pretty nice goatee during all this time floating in the raft despite losing weight and looking emaciated, his goatee stayed in impressively good shape.
Finally, after one of them has died and the other two are weak and feeble, Zamperini is awakened and says to the other, Well, the good news is we are rescued. The bad news is we are Japanese prisoners. Amazingly, they had survived for 47 days.
Prisoner of War
Louie and the other survivor, Phil were taken to a prison camp on an island and beaten mistreated. Then they were taken to the mainland and separated and went to different prison camps. Zamperini’s run by Watanabe nicknamed “The Bird”. To say the Bird was sadistic might be an understatement. In one scene, he forced every prisoner in the camp to punch Zamperini in the face. There were numerous other beatings and humilities but amazingly Zamperini and many of the others survived.
Incredible story, well worth watching.