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Former POW Forgives the Guard Who Terrorized Him

In her book, Unbroken, Laura Hildenbrand (author of Seabiscuit) recounts the amazing true story of World War II veteran and prisoner-of-war survivor Louis (or Louie) Zamperini. On May 27, 1943, Zamperini's bomber left Oahu in search of survivors from a downed plane. About 800 miles from the base one of the engines cut out and the bomber plunged into the ocean. Zamperini and another soldier would stay afloat on a tiny life raft for 47 days—a world record for survival at sea. After confronting sharks, starvation, and dementia, their real battle would begin. Zamperini spent the next two years as a Japanese POW in the notorious Sugamo Prison. In particular, a guard named Watanabe (nicknamed "the Bird") ensured that Louis endured constant physical torture and verbal humiliation—all in an attempt to shatter the spirit of the American soldiers.

In 1944, after Louis had been declared dead, he returned to America to a rush of publicity. Unfortunately, his life quickly descended into a new self-made prison of alcoholism and bitterness. In particular, Louis now endured constant nightmares about his past and an obsessive drive to murder "the Bird." But the walls of addiction and hatred started to crumble in 1949 when Louis attended a Billy Graham crusade and heard the gospel and trusted Christ.

After receiving Christ, in the words of Laura Hildenbrand:

When [Louie] thought of his history, what resonated with him now was not all that he had suffered but the divine love that he believed had intervened to save him. He was not the worthless, broken, forsaken man that the Bird had striven to make him. In a single, silent moment, his rage, his fear, his humiliation and helplessness, had fallen away. That morning, he believed, he was a new creation.

A year after trusting Christ, Zamperini returned to the Sugamo Prison in Japan where he met with his former captors, except the Bird. When Louis was told that the Bird had committed suicide, in Hildebrand's words,

[Louie] felt something he had never felt for his captor before. With a shiver of amazement, he realized it was compassion. At that moment, something shifted sweetly inside him. It was forgiveness, beautiful and effortless and complete. For Louie Zamperini, the war was over.

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