Louis Zamperini NBC Los Angeles

Louis Zamperini, credit: NBC Los Angeles


I walked into the house, sighing as I drop my keys on the counter with a thud. It’s been a long day of grinding through reports, dealing with irritated customers, co-workers expounding on how management doesn’t understand the strain everyone is working under, given the prevailing atmosphere of economic uncertainty, prospective clients haven’t called back… and no one refilled the coffee pot. As I walk through the living room, my blood pressure climbs, caused by finding chewed up scraps of paper strewn across the floor. Bending down I realize that my five-pound alarm systems (also referred to as miniature Pomeranians and sometimes devil children) have found page 3 of a report that I had been searching for but apparently dropped. It has been a long, hard day.


Not compared to a day in the life of Louie Zamperini. A few years ago, Louie spoke at Houston’s First Baptist Church for a gathering of over 3000 men. Laura Hildebrandt, author of the critically acclaimed book Seabiscuit, chronicled Louie’s journey as an Olympic athlete, World War II veteran and a survivor of a Japanese POW camp. Her latest book Unbroken, is a New York Times Best Seller, a definite must read. We sat in rapt attention as a 94-year old man held court speaking with amazing clarity, humor and strength.


The engine on Louie’s plane failed while on a rescue mission, killing 10 of the 13 men aboard. Louie spent 47 days adrift on a raft, the only food available being the kidneys of small sharks that were caught by hand. Louie was forced to jump overboard into shark infested waters on four different occasions to escape Japanese planes strafing the raft with bullets… And my coffee pot was empty this morning…


The men finally found themselves 2000 miles away from the crash site, beached on a remote island in the Pacific. Gilligan and the Skipper were nowhere around, only Japanese soldiers. Louie spent the next 2 ½ years as a prisoner, brutalized daily by a sadistic camp leader… And my commute home was miserable due to traffic stalling from rubberneckers staring at an accident…


I won’t attempt to share all the details of an amazing life filled with courage, resolve, dedication, appreciation and a love for God. One point resonated throughout Louie’s life: it is a constant positive attitude that surmounts all hurdles. Never have I heard of someone who deservedly had earned the opportunity to complain of the unfairness in life. Had Louie not entered the service, he was touted as one of the chief contenders for an Olympic gold medal based on his performance in the 1936 games held in Germany. He was on track to being the first man to ever run the mile in under 4 minutes, years before Roger Bannister finally broke that mark.


He was invited to carry the Olympic torch a few years ago through the same town that once housed the prison camp where he was held. City leaders asked that he carry the torch as the streets lined with citizens, shoulder to shoulder cheered him for over one kilometer. Afterward, he was asked to address the city fathers to discuss what he took away from his experience. Louie commented that “it wasn’t the memory of the pain; it was the attempt to strip away human dignity.”


He went on to explain that it is our attitude that is our greatest tool in facing obstacles and hardship. Jesse Owen, one of the greatest athletes our country has ever produced, was ostracized by Hitler in the 1936 Olympics, simply because of the color of his skin. He faced bigotry, slander, physical intimidation throughout his career both overseas and at home. Yet in spite of Hitler’s attempt to discredit him before the people, every time Jesse competed the stands went wild in support of him. No matter what was thrown at him, figuratively and literally Louie said Jesse, with courage and composure, simply forged ahead with a smile on his face and in his heart. Nothing could get him down. This composure under the harshest circumstances touched the lives the Germans who witnessed his grace and courage.


Today life is not easy. I find anxiousness in the air in many meetings I attend, in the eyes of people who feel uncertain about their job or future economic circumstances their company may face. Louie’s message to all of us is to focus on taking whatever steps you need to get through the moment. His emphasis is on taking steps, learning how and when to move into action and to do it with an attitude of hope and optimism. The results we obtain are in direct proportion to the attitude that fuels our steps, a constant positive attitude.


Tomorrow when I reach out to pour my cup of coffee, I choose to walk in confidence knowing there are no sharks. Life is really good…