Why have I never heard of 1936 Olympic runner Louis Zamporini? What a story! What a life! I am so surprised there has not been a movie made about this dude! You need to read it to believe it– a true story that is more exciting than fiction!
Award winning author Laura Hillenbrand, author of Seabiscuit, tells the story of Louie Zamporini, the bratty kid of Italian immigrants who learns discipline through track racing. He was pinned to be the first runner to break the 4 minute mile had fate not had other plans. The story is a wild ride from the very beginning! There is no way a review can even touch this man of Nine Lives but here are some highlights (one for each life!):
- Louis jumps off of a moving train as a little boy to defy his parents.
- He runs his A _ _ off in his teens to keep from fighting and getting into trouble (Louis believes running is what prevented him from becoming a criminal).
- When he is in Berlin for the 1936 Olympic Games he swipes a Nazi flag for fun and gets chased by SS soldiers (he comes in 8th over all in the 5000 meter dash, but the impressive part is that he completes the last lap in only 56 seconds, prompting a request from Hitler himself who wants to shake hands with “the boy with the fast finish”). Had the war not started there is no doubt he would have finished in the top at the 1940 Tokyo Games.
- He joins the Air Force and gets sent to the South Pacific to fight the Japanese. His plane, Superman, gets shot to hell in a dog fight and Louie and the close-knit crew narrowly make it back to their base. They counted over 500 holes in the plane when they got back!
- A routine rescue mission in a different plane (nicknamed “the flying coffin”) ends with a crash into the ocean. Louis, the pilot (Russell “Phil” Phillips) and the tail-gunner (Francis McNamara) are stranded on two 6 foot life rafts. In the end they travel more than 2000 miles, surviving shark attacks, starvation and Japanese bullets (WOW– this part had me holding my breath the entire time!)
- Louis and Phil FINALLY find land after 47 days at sea (unfortunately “Mac” does not make it). They have each lost at least 100 pounds and can barely walk off the raft. And more bad news– the island is occupied by the Japanese. They are immediately taken prisoner.
- They are sent to several different prison camps, each one seemingly worse than the one before. The Japanese were notoriously cruel to prisoners of war during WWII, but nothing would prepare Louie for the cruelty that would be inflicted upon him by one prison guard in particular– Mutsuhero Watanabi (a.k.a. The Bird). The Bird took an unnatural dislike to Louie and did all that he could to break the man. Some of the things that happened were SO hard to read!
- The war finally ends and Louis barely makes it out alive. The Japanese were only days away from a “kill all” order when the Atom Bomb hits Hiroshima and ends the war.
- Finally home, happy and reunited with his family, Louis meets a wonderful girl, who he quickly marries– but he can not get the nightmare of the war (and The Bird) out of his mind. He becomes a raging alcoholic and his life begins spiralling out of control. After all he went through in Japan he wasn’t sure if he would ever be ok (he does end up finding Jesus thru the preacher, Billy Graham but it doesn’t get all preachy there, which I appreciated– shove it down your throat religious preaching creeps me right out!).
AMAZINGLY enough this guy is still kicking around. He dedicated his life to troubled kids and has had the honor of carrying 5 Olympic torches! Here is a news story about Louie from 2010– when he was 93 years old!!
Just GO and get this book and read it now!! This story is SO incredibly fascinating and so well written that 500 pages will seem like 50! You will NOT be able to put it down!! 5 stars!