How Long Would You Survive In A Lifeboat?
My book club just recently finished reading the book Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand. If you haven’t yet read this book, I encourage you to do so. It is an amazing read. Even more amazing is the story is a true one. Unbroken chronicles the life of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic distance runner from the 1936 Berlin games who is drafted by the Army as a bombardier in World War II, when his plane crashes into the Pacific and he becomes a prisoner of war. The book details the horrific treatment Louis and his fellow POWs received at the hands of the Japanese and how Louis’ indomitable spirit helps him survive. It’s also a story of forgiveness.
Louis’ ordeal begins when he is one of three survivors of an ocean plane crash. He and his best friend Phil, the plane’s pilot, unbelievably survive 47 days adrift in a life raft in the middle of the Pacific ocean. (A third crewman also survived the crash, but not the six weeks on the raft.) When our book club was discussing the book, we all began wondering hwo long we’d survive such an ordeal. No fresh water. No food. No shelter from the blistering sun. Several of us admitted it might only be a few days before we gave up. Which begs the question: what makes someone survive this type of harrowing experience? What did Phil and Louis have that we obviously feel we lack? Would I survive it if I had to? I really don’t want to find out, thank you very much. But, I’d like to think I’d last a least a little while. I’ve survived motherhood, after all.
What makes this book even more special is its author, Laura Hillenbrand. Like Louis, she’s got a wealth of inner strength. She suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome and is often unable to leave her house for years at a time, some days not even her bedroom. If the book hadn’t inspired me, her sheer will to get this story out there would have. The historical detail presented in the book is remarkable. She writes about men and animals (her first book was Seabiscuit) who overcome tremendous obstacles to survive and thrive. Ironically, throughout the seven years it took to write this book, Louis never knew of the author’s ailment; most of the interviews took place over the phone or via email. After learning of Laura Hillenbrand’s illness while reading an interview of her once the book was completed, he sent her one of his Purple Hearts.
Louis Zamperini never made it back to the Olympics. At least not as a competitor again. He did carry the Olympic torch twice: once at the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics and again, in 1998 through the very streets in Japan where he had once been a tortured prisoner of war. In the 1930’s, it was believed he would be the first man to break the four minute mile. A war, and the horrible torture he suffered just for being an American, obliterated that dream.
This week, as we celebrate both Armed Forces Day and Memorial Day, I’d like to say thank you to all those men and women who have sacrificed a dream—or a life—for this country. Thank you to all those who returned from protecting our country with debilitating wounds—both physical and emotional—that must be endured for a life time. Thank you, also, to all the families sacrificing on the home front. It is appreciated.