Louis Zamperini died Wednesday at the age of 97. Zamperini competed in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin as a distance runner. A budding star in the track community, Zamperini retired from track to serve his country during World War II. During the war, he and his fellow soldier’s plane was shot down over the Pacific Ocean. He and one other crewmate survived for 47 days on a lifeboat before being found by the Japanese. He was then detained in a POW camp for over two years, enduring horrific physical and mental torture. After he returned home, Zamperini began having nightmares. What would later become known as post-traumatic stress disorder, was tearing his life apart. He became a Christian in 1949 after attending a crusade meeting led by Billy Graham. It was at that point that this extraordinary American made one of the most difficult decisions of his incredible life. He chose to forgive the Japanese soldiers who had tortured him. Zamperini found peace and his nightmares subsided. He travelled back to Japan later and personally forgave many of the soldiers he had encountered during the war. He was even willing to meet with the one soldier who had singled him out for severe, unrelenting torture, but Mutsuhiro Watanabe refused to meet with him. Zamperini’s life is brilliantly and beautifully presented in Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken. A movie by the same title is set to hit movie theatres in December of this year.
Peace is rarely attained through power. Louis Zamperini was forced to live a nightmarish existence for over 2 years during which he was dominated, insulted, and abused. Any attempt to fight back only led to heightened abuse. Yet, when given the opportunity years later to overcome, expose, and get revenge on his captors, he chose instead to forgive, and thereby found a deep and lasting peace. On the other hand, Watanabe had imprisoned and abused countless soldiers during World War II, he enjoyed limitless power in the POW camp, but found later that his power led to nothing but shame. He spend the remainder of his life imprisoned by his past, unable to ever face those he had wronged. It takes incredible strength to forgive, but forgiveness is the weapon God has given us with which to change the world. Forgiveness changes everything.
My thoughts and prayers go out to the Zamperini family, and I thank God for a man who has shown us all that forgiveness wins. I pray for you today as well that if you have been wronged, you will be able to lay down your hurt and pick up forgiveness in its place. You deserve the peace that it brings!