Thursday, January 29, 2015

Louis Zamperini - American-Cisalpine of Veronese ancestry: Part 2

"The most important thing in my Christian life was to know that I not only forgave them, verbally, but to see them face-to-face and tell them that I forgave them."

That was more than 60 years ago -- and our story would end there, were it not for the book "Unbroken."

He became a celebrity all over again. Readers clamored to see him, to hear him, to applaud his life.

Reid asked, "When you finished reading that book, what did you think?"

"It put me back in prison," he replied, "and I had to stop and look out the window and make sure I wasn't back in prison."

Did he ever imagine it would be a bestseller? "Well, she's a great writer," Zamperini said.

"She" is author Laura Hillenbrand. Her last book was the bestseller "Seabiscuit." "Unbroken" took her seven years to research and write. But in all that time, you may be surprised to learn that the author and the subject of her story never met, not even once.

Hillenbrand never met him because at the time she was suffering from a chronic illness that made it difficult for her to leave her home in Washington, D.C. So, as Zamperini did, we spoke with her by telephone.
She said of her ailment, "Patients often go into times when they are literally unable to get out of bed for weeks or months or years. And it was something that helped me identify with Louie, because his story is largely about suffering."

Hillenbrand says she thinks NOT meeting Zamperini actually made her book better: "Because when he was telling me his stories, I wasn't looking at a 90-year-old man. I was thinking about a 17-year-old runner, or a 26-year-old guy out on a life raft. And I was able to visualize it."

But while Hillenbrand came to know nearly everything about Zamperini, he knew almost nothing about her.

"When the papers printed her story, I couldn't believe it," he said. "The only thing I could do, and I felt was proper, I sent her one of my Purple Hearts. And I said, 'You deserve this more than I do.'"

Reid asked, "Why did you feel she deserved it more?"

"Well, she's been suffering for 30 years. I suffered for a couple of years."

Turns out the 47-year-old author and the aging veteran share much more than the past:

"Laura has said that when times get really tough for her, she calls you," said Reid.

"We talk to each other on the phone. People said, 'Oh, yeah. Louie's my inspiration.' Well, I might say that she's my inspiration."

When we talked, Zamperini said he hoped one day to meet Hillenbrand, and that he had a message: "Well, I don't think we'll tell each other very much, except 'I love you.'"
Not long after, that hope became a reality. While in Washington in 2012, he paid a visit to her home.

Hillenbrand said, "He told me, as we were hugging each other and saying goodbye, he said that the book was the crescendo of his life. And he believes he's lived this long so he could see it written and read. And that was the loveliest thing he's ever said to me."

As for Louis Zamperini, he had something to share with all his newfound admirers.

"You forgave your Japanese enemies," said Reid. "Do you think Americans forgive enough?"

"No, I think it's the hardest thing in life, is [to] forgive," he said. "Hate is self-destructive. If you hate somebody, you're not hurting the person you hate. You're hurting yourself. And that's a healing. Actually, it's a real healing, forgiveness."


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