Hillenbrand identifies a thread of adversity and resilience in Louie’s pre-war life. As a child, Louie grew up poor but his defiance pushed him to rebel against the limitations he saw around him. At the time he expressed this defiance in inappropriate and destructive ways, acting delinquently and stealing from neighbors and local businesses. His beloved older brother, Pete, eventually helped straighten Louie out by giving him a new challenge: running. Louie poured his determination into training—which by definition is the continued act of giving one’s all and overcoming adversity through physical and mental resilience—eventually emerging as an Olympian who competed at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
Hillenbrand speculates that this experience with adversity and the resilience such experiences helped to build up allowed Louie to survive the war. Getting stranded in a life-raft for forty-seven days was just another limitation or obstacle to overcome. Similarly, after being captured by the Japanese and subjected to the daily cruelties and humiliations of the Japanese labor camp, Louie never gave in to despair or hopelessness.
Louie’s resilience made him able to withstand the war but, perhaps, made him less able to handle reintegration into normal civilian life after the war. Before and during the war, Louie’s resilience had always been defined against the very concrete obstacles he faced, whether that was training for the Olympics or surviving on the raft or in the Japanese camps. After the war, Louie was faced instead with the threat of his own mind: psychological wounds like night terrors and flashbacks. He fought against these obstacles much as he did against external obstacles, in this case repressing them with the use of alcohol. But that combative resilience had destructive effects in peacetime, both to himself and his family. It was only when Louie found a new kind of resilience, a belief in God founded on acceptance rather than defiance, that he could heal and remake his civilian life.
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Survival and Resilience Quotes in Unbroken
A month earlier, twenty-six-year-old Zamperini had been one of the greatest runners in the world, expected by many to be the first to break the four-minute mile, one of the most celebrated barriers in sport. Now his Olympian’s body had wasted to less than one hundred pounds and his famous legs could no longer lift him. Almost everyone outside of his family had given him up for dead.
He could have ended the beatings by running away or succumbing to tears, but he refused to do either. “You could beat him to death,” said Sylvia, “and he wouldn’t say ‘ouch’ or cry.” He just put his hands in front of his face and took it.
By 1932, the modest, mild-tempered Cunningham, whose legs and back were covered in a twisting mesh of scars, was becoming a national sensation, soon to be acclaimed as the greatest miler in American history. Louie had his hero.
He found himself thinking of Pete, and of something that he had said as they had sat on their bed years earlier: A lifetime of glory is worth a moment of pain. Louie thought: Let go.
Hitler said something in German. An interpreter translated. “Ah, you’re the boy with the fast finish.”
From this day forward, until victory or defeat, transfer, discharge, capture, or death took them from it, the vast Pacific would be beneath and around them. Its bottom was already littered with downed warplanes and the ghosts of lost airmen. Every day of this long and ferocious war, more would join them.
And like everyone else, Louie and Phil drank. After a few beers, Louie said, it was possible to briefly forget dead friends.
When they arrived at the crash site, the men were astonished by what they saw. Two life rafts, holding the entire five-man B-25 crew, floated amid plane debris. Around them, the ocean was churning with hundreds of sharks, some of which looked twenty feet long. Knifing agitated circles in the water, the creatures seemed on the verge of overturning the rafts.
The realization that Mac had eaten all of the chocolate rolled hard over Louie. In the brief time that Louie had known Mac, the tail gunner had struck him as a decent, friendly guy, although a bit of a reveler, confident to the point of flippancy. The crash had undone him. Louie knew that they couldn’t survive for long without food, but he quelled the thought. A rescue search was surely under way.
For Louie and Phil, the conversations were healing, pulling them out of their suffering and setting the future before them as a concrete thing. As they imagined themselves back in the world again, they willed a happy ending onto their ordeal and made it their expectation. With these talks, they created something to live for.
Mac had never seen combat, didn’t know these officers, and was largely an unknown quantity to himself. All he knew about his ability to cope with this crisis was that on the first night, he had panicked and eaten the only food they had. As time passed and starvation loomed, this act took on greater and greater importance, and it may have fed Mac’s sense of futility.
They bowed their heads together as Louie prayed. If God would quench their thirst, he vowed, he’d dedicate his life to him. The next day, by divine intervention or the fickle humors of the tropics, the sky broke open and rain poured down. Twice more the water ran out, twice more they prayed, and twice more the rain came.
This self-respect and sense of self-worth, the innermost armament of the soul, lies at the heart of humanness; to be deprived of it is to be dehumanized, to be cleaved from, and cast below, mankind. Men subjected to dehumanizing treatment experience profound wretchedness and loneliness and find that hope is almost impossible to retain.
Dignity is as essential to human life as water, food, and oxygen. The stubborn retention of it, even in the face of extreme physical hardship, can hold a man’s soul in his body long past the point at which the body should have surrendered it. The loss of it can carry a man off as surely as thirst, hunger, exposure, and asphyxiation, and with greater cruelty. In places like Kwajalein, degradation could be as lethal as a bullet.
Now he was condemned to crawl through the filth of a pig’s sty, picking up feces with his bare hands and cramming handfuls of the animal’s feed into his mouth to save himself from starving to death. Of all of the violent and vile abuses that the Bird had inflicted upon Louie, none had horrified and demoralized him as did this. If anything is going to shatter me, Louie thought, this is it.
A flask became his constant companion, making furtive appearances in parking lots and corridors outside speaking halls. When the harsh push of memory ran through Louie, reaching for his flask became as easy as slapping a swatter on a fly.
Louie had no idea what had become of the Bird, but he felt sure that if he could get back to Japan, he could hunt him down. This would be his emphatic reply to the Bird’s unremitting effort to extinguish his humanity: I am still a man. He could conceive of no other way to save himself. Louie had found a quest to replace his lost Olympics. He was going to kill the Bird.