A Thanksgiving Hero – Louis Zamperini

A couple of Thanksgivings ago, my sweet sister in law Samantha (yep!  I’m lucky enough to have ANOTHER sister!) came up with a Hollister family tradition – The Thanksgiving Hero.  On Thanksgiving we all choose an American hero that has inspired us and we share it with the rest of the family.  I love traditions!

This year, my hero is Louis Zamperini.

I first heard of Zamperini a couple of years ago when I was visiting my family in Georgia.  We all went to church one Sunday morning and the sermon was about forgiveness.  They referred to Zamperini’s story as the ultimate example of forgiveness.

Untamable as a young boy, he harnessed that energy to become an olympic runner.


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WWII began and he joined the Air Force.


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During an American raid over Japanese territory, his plane was shot down and they crashed in the Pacific.  He and 2 other crew members survived the crash but spent 47 days in a life raft being circled by sharks.  They were finally rescued but by the Japanese, and they were imprisoned for the next 2 years in the most brutal Japanese POW camps.  Because of Louis’s fame as an Olympic athlete, a psychotic guard, known as “The Bird”, took interest in Louis and constantly tormented him.  One example: already sick and weak, Louis was forced to hold a log above his head for 37 minutes and it ended with the Bird punching him in the stomach.

The war finally ended, Louis went home and began suffering from severe post traumatic stress disorder.  His wife wouldn’t give up on him and encouraged him to go to meetings held by Billy Graham (an evangelical Christian).  Louis became a born again Christian and then began a career as an inspirational speaker – forgiveness being his favorite theme.  He went back to Japan and met with some of the POW camp guards and forgave them.  He tried to meet with The Bird later in life but the Bird refused the meeting.  So he wrote him a letter of forgiveness.

As the pastor at church began to read Louis’s letter, he stopped and said, “I think it would be better to hear this from Louis himself.”  I couldn’t believe it!  Right before my eyes, this man, 94 (at the time), who endured and overcame so much, walked out on the stage, stood in front of us and read the letter.  He brought down the house and everyone was in tears.  His story changed me forever.

The book about his life, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, has been on my book list forever.  Fortunately, my book club chose this book last month and I finally got the chance to read it.  All I have to say is that I think everyone should read this book.


Buy the book at Nantucket Bookworks!

Unbroken is currently being made into a movie directed by Angelina Jolie.  It will be released Christmas Day 2014 and I can’t wait to see it!


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Publicity stills photography on the set of NBC Universal's movie 'Unbroken'Photo Credit

Louis is a true American hero.  For me, his story is a reminder to me to preserver no matter what and that I shouldn’t complain about anything.  Ever.  Life may have its ups and downs but I’ve been extremely blessed.  Thank you to Louis for sharing his story and inspiring me.

And thank you Samanth for starting this awesome tradition!

Well, that’s it for this year’s Thanksgiving Hero! Who would yours be?


  1. Em, I couldn’t agree more. Great book. Great man.

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