We talk about heroes today as people who can play chords on a guitar or put a ball in a basket. Though those things may be impressive they are not heroic.
If you want to meet a genuine American hero, come to Harvest Riverside tomorrow night or Harvest Orange County on Thursday night. There you will meet Louis Zamperini.
His story is told in the New York Times bestseller, Unbroken.
The son of Italian immigrants, Louis was born in 1917. Soon after his family moved from NYC to the city of Torrance, California, he started getting into trouble. He spoke no English and he was picked on, so he learned to defend himself.
He said in an interview, “I was beating the tar out of every one of them…But I was so good at it that I started relishing the idea of getting even. I was sort of addicted to it.” He was smoking by age five, beating kids up, and stealing beer from bootleggers.
His older brother was his polar opposite. He was polite, got good grades, and received a scholarship to run track at USC. He saw this same potential in Louis and urged him to run.
At first Louis resisted, but he discovered he had a real knack for running, which ultimately resulted in him getting a scholarship at USC and running in the Olympics in Germany. They called him “The Torrance Tornado.”
In the 5000-meter Olympic final, Louis finished eighth, but ran the last quarter mile in just 56 seconds. He was so fast, that Adolf Hitler himself insisted on meeting him. Louis said, “So I went over to see him. He reached down, shook my hand kind of flimsy-like and said, ‘Ah, the boy with the fast finish.’ ”
The Nazis were coming into power and soon World War 2 broke out. Louis joined the Air Force and became a B-24 Bombardier and cheated death many times, earning the nickname “Lucky Louis.”
But one day, he wasn’t so lucky…
The Green Hornet
Louis’s plane, “the Green Hornet,” was shot down over the Pacific and it crashed into the ocean, 800 miles south of Hawaii. Out of 11 men, only three survived.
They were now floating in the middle of 65 million square miles of water. They were soon surrounded by sharks, which bumped against their partially deflated life raft. They survived by killing albatross that landed on their raft, using them for bait.
One night, a 20-foot great white shark cruised by and they prayed for protection. Louis was not a Christian, but said prayers he had seen in movies.
Louis Zamperini was officially declared dead by the U.S. government. After 27 days at sea, they were spotted by an aircraft. They fired their flare gun in hopes of rescue, only to realize it was a Japanese aircraft, which then strafed them with bullets. The others huddled while Louis dove in the water, fighting off the sharks with his bare hands.
Despite all of this, things were still to get worse for Louis…