Lou Zamperini was nothing if not colorful. He was a juvenile delinquent, then a world-class NCAA miler and 1936 Olympian.
Then came World War II; on May 24, 1943 his B-24 crashed in the Pacific Ocean. He was 47 days on a raft, floating 2,000 miles. They ate shark livers and raw albatross. Their water: sporadic rainfall.
Then things got worse: on day 47, he and his companion were captured by the Japanese. He was starved, beaten, and subjected to medical experiments. His chief tormentor was a prison guard nicknamed “The Bird.” Even the other guards thought him a psychopath.
Zamperini lived through it. He made it back home to America. But inside, the rage was still burning. He drank, he fought, he suffered nightmares. Now we call it post-traumatic stress syndrome.
Then Zamperini happened to attend a revival put on by a young evangelist by the name of Billy Graham. He found faith, but still wrestled his demons. He kept overcoming, to the point where he became an inspirational speaker himself.
During the 1998 Winter Olympics in Japan, Zamperini’s story and dramatic return to face – and forgive -- his torturers were chronicled on CBS’s “48 Hours.” His book is Devil at My Heels (2003).
Active and vigorous into his eighties, Zamperini made one small concession to age. In 2003, age eighty-six, he gave up skateboarding.
PS, Mr. Zamperini, 93, is still going strong.
What a superb gift idea to someone going through heavy waters....