Luke Zamperini Speaks Dec19


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Luke Zamperini Speaks

Academy Award® winner Angelina Jolie produced and directed one of the most highly anticipated films of the season, the inspiring, UNBROKEN, an epic drama that unveils the story of Olympian and war hero Louis “Louie” Zamperini, who, along with two other crewmen, survived in a raft for 47 days after their plane crashed in the ocean during WWII. Rescued from the sea, they were caught by the Japanese navy and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp, where they endured unspeakable hardships.

Luke & Louie Zamperini

Luke & Louie Zamperini

Zamperini’s son, Luke, talks about his father’s remarkable story.

Mike Parker – My father was a POW in the Korean War, so I can kind of empathize with your experience as a child of a POW. My dad was one of the lucky ones who came home and built a life, but he rarely talks about his experiences as a POW. Was that a challenge for your father, to share his experiences with you?

Luke Zamperini – It started out being hard for him to talk about it, but being a world-famous athlete people wanted to know his story. It became easier over time, and after he went through his conversion experience he talked about it all the time. It was his way of witnessing, just telling his story to whoever would listen. As a child I knew the story very well. His book, “Devil on My Heels,” was published in 1956 and there was even a color comic book that told his story for young people. While he left out a lot of the harsher details, his stories of survival on the raft and in the prison camp were my bedtime stories.

Parker – I know you have to be proud of how your father handled himself under horrific conditions, but do you ever find yourself angry at those who were on the other side of the war?

Zamperini – Yes. When someone does you wrong it seems to be easier to forgive than when they do someone you love wrong. There is just a natural motivation to try to protect those that you love. I always thought that I needed to hate them. But in 1998 I went with my Dad to Japan to the Olympics, and we stopped in Tokyo and met with one of the prison guards. There I was with a prison guard that I thought I had to hate, but he was so happy to see my Dad, and so joyful, I realized that forgiveness is the best thing for all. It was kind of a turning point for me.

Parker – Did your father ever suffer from survivor guilt?

Zamperini – Not that I ever witnessed. He didn’t survive by happenstance. When his plane crashed in the water he was fully prepared for that ordeal. As an athlete in college he studied physiology, and he had a professor who told him the mind was like a muscle that would atrophy if he didn’t use it. While in the service there was a survival course about surviving in the water with sharks, which he took along with a number of other soldiers. Being able to survive on the open water, living off of what rainwater he could collect, I don’t think he had time to think about why he survived and nobody else did.

Parker – What do you hope audiences will take away from the film?

Zamperini – Forgiveness. I think people will come out of the film having seen what the human spirit is capable of enduring. But also being made aware of the power God gives to forgive someone no matter how terrible they treated you.

Parker – Ms. Jolie is not known to be a person of faith. Did you have any concerns about her directing your father’s story?

Zamperini – Yes and no. I’ve prayed for years that the film would get made by someone with a passion to tell the story. Along comes Angelina, who not only has a passion for the story, but she has a passion for my father. He became her hero when she read “Unbroken.” I believe in the sovereignty of God, and I felt the film would have as much of the Gospel in it as God intended it to have. But I still opened my mouth when I met her and told her that there were two primary aspects that people take away from his story. One was that, if he could survive 47 days on a life raft, I can survive whatever is facing me. And the second was, if he could forgive the Japanese for what they did to him, I can forgive my brother who I haven’t spoken to in 20 years. Angelina assured me that the faith and forgiveness element would be a significant part of the film. And she delivered on that promise.