Louie Zamperini was the tough kid on the block. As a young teenager, he was in constant trouble. At some point, the young rebel decided to turn his life around and became an accomplished runner. Later he went on to the 1936 Olympics and at college, he became the NCAA mile champion record holder twice.

He fought in World War II as a bombardier on a B-24 Bomber. On May 27, 1943, while on a rescue mission, his B-24 crashed into the Pacific Ocean and he went missing. Everyone thought the Olympic runner had perished. Zamperini survived the crash with two other men – drifting over 2,000 miles in shark infested waters for 47 days on 2 rafts.

When a man defies the odds and survives a crash that should have ended his life, it is natural to consider there might be a God. When he drifts in shark infested waters and stays alive, he must believe there is a God. It was at that point, that Louie prayed a simple prayer. God, please do not let me die out here. If you’ll let me live, I’ll serve you all the days of my life.

God answered that prayer by sending enough rain to give the men water to drink. The crashing waves tossed tiny fish into the raft which the men used as bait to catch a 10-inch pilot fish. Their survival gear included a can which contained fish hooks and fishing line. Louie said that the pilot fish swam alongside the sharks and when one came near he would grab it with the string and hooks he had tied to his hands.

The men were able to catch some birds that had lighted upon the raft and a tern which was infested with lice – unbeknownst to the men until one of them felt the lice in his beard after eating it – feathers and all!

These are only some of the trials the men would face. Louie’s training as an athlete became useful in surviving the ordeal. His coach had told him, “You’re mind is everything.” It’s like a muscle. You must exercise it or it will atrophy – just like a muscle. As Louie Zamperini noted, the mind is the crucial line of defense against adversity.

If you do not discipline your mind, you’re in big trouble.

On the twenty-seventh day drifting at sea, they saw a plane in the distance. Thinking it was a B-25 they waved their shirts and screamed. In response – the sound of machine gunfire filled the air. It was the enemy flying a Japanese Sally bomber which they had mistaken for a B-25. The men took cover hanging on beneath the rafts to avoid being shot. Louie recalled a Boy Scout leader had told him once that water stops bullets at about 3 feet. Later he would testify that it’s true.

Louie repaired the bullet holes in the raft with the glue and patch kit that was part of their emergency gear. The men now had renewed hope – realizing the Sally Bomber was evidence that they must be near land now. Before they could reach the shore, a Japanese patrol ship spotted them and they were captured on day 47.

The men were now prepared to endure unspeakable torture at the hands of the Japanese. When their captors asked them, “Who’s going to win the war? They shouted, America!

They knew the price they would pay for defying the enemy yet they refused to betray America. Zamperini endured the most brutal hardships until the very end of the war when he finally came home as an American hero.

Zamperini kept his promise to God and served Him all the days of his life. He finished his race. He’s gone on to his eternal reward.

May each and every one of us hold the same determination in our hearts to endure until the end no matter the cost. Never give up, never give in. Embrace adversity as you would a brother.

A smooth sea never made a good sailor.


Source:  Devil At My Heels by Louis Zamperini and David Rensin

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