A truly great American died today.
Louis Zamperini has gone to be with the Lord.
It was my privilege to get to know Louis and to interview him on a number of occasions. He truly was one of a kind. How many people do you know who shook hands with Adolph Hitler and also punched a shark in the nose? Louis did that and more.
This all happened in his remarkable life, recorded in the outstanding book Unbroken, written by Laura Hillenbrand. This book is now being made into a film that will be out by the end of the year.
I once told Louis it was as though he had lived four separate lives:
- Louis the juvenile delinquent who developed an ability for running (which he perfected running from the police!) that carried him to the Olympics of 1936. He put in such an impressive performance that Adolf Hitler, who was in power at that point, wanted to shake his hand.
- Louis the patriot, who joined the military to serve his country in World War 2. He became a bombardier and was shot down over the Pacific and was adrift at sea for a staggering 47 days.
- Then there was Louis the survivor, who was captured by the Japanese and held as a prisoner of war for two years. It was during this time Louis was treated especially cruelly by a Japanese commandant that had it out for him, known as “the bird.”
- Finally, there was Louis the follower of Jesus Christ. After returning from war, he was hailed as a hero for all he endured. He spiraled downward into alcoholism, dealing with PTSD. His wife invited him to hear a young preacher from North Carolina that was just beginning his ministry named Billy Graham. Louis went forward to accept Christ that night and spent the rest of his 97 years on earth telling others about his faith.
That faith also prompted Louis to go back to Japan and share the gospel with the very guards who had treated him so cruelly. Truly, this was an amazing life.
I am confident Jesus has already said to Louis Zamperini, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter in the joy of your Lord!”
Here is a video of an interview I did with Louis a short while ago: