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Michelle Turnberg, Published April 14 2012

Turnberg: Louie Zamperini biography is inspiring tale

Twenty years of work in the media has cemented the notion in my mind that truth is stranger than fiction. Some stories are so unimaginable it would be impossible for someone to make them up.

Like many of you I have had my fair share of struggles. There have been times it has all felt overwhelming. I remember one morning shutting off my alarm clock, and contemplating remaining in bed indefinitely. The stresses of divorce, being a single parent, work, and no work can all weigh heavily on a person.

If you feel as though you are enduring struggles in life, or might be wondering how you can cope, I can give you a dose of profound perspective. I recently read a biography that had me so transfixed I read the 500 page book in little more than a day.

The life story of Louie Zamperini is awe inspiring. To say that his story grips you is an understatement, and I can assure you that it will somehow leave you a slightly better person for having read it.

The book is “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption” by Laura Hillebrand. Zamperini, of course, is the subject of the book.

He was a troublemaker who grew up in California in the 1920s. He became one of the greatest track stars of his time, shattering the national high school record in the mile. Many felt that Zamperini would become the first person to break the four minute mile; he became one of the youngest members of the U.S. Olympic team in 1936. He shook Adolf Hitler’s hand at the Berlin games and was almost shot by Nazi guards for stealing a Nazi souvenir.

Up to that point, the events of Louis Zamperini’s life have the makings of an incredible story, but his tale is only beginning …

A few short years following the Berlin Olympic Games, Mr. Zamperini became an American serviceman who saw active duty in the Pacific theater. A B-24 bomber he was aboard was shot down and crashed into the sea, and he spent more than 40 days floating on a disintegrating raft circled by aggressive sharks, scorched by the sun, and gnawed to the bone by inescapable hunger and thirst.

He overcame all that only to be declared dead by the U.S. Army and to be “rescued” by the Japanese, who were every bit as predatory as the great white of the seas. As a Japanese prisoner of war, he was beaten every day by a particular corporal, who made it his personal mission to break the American Olympic hero.

He survived the torture and returned home. Perhaps it was then, haunted by nightmares of his abuser and the war, that he won his greatest battle.

Louis Zamperini is the unbroken one – the man who kept getting up, coming back, reboundin, and holding on to the tenuous thread that connected him with life and hope, facing hardships beyond anything any of us could imagine.

His story is unforgettable, and it will allow you to forget your own troubles and perhaps put into perspective what constitutes hardship in your own life.

Zamperini’s story does not end. It stays with you long beyond the final page.

Michelle Turnberg writes a weekly column for SheSays.