“Unbroken” and the light in vets’ faces

Louis Zamperini

Louis Zamperini

I read Laura Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit years ago and hung on every word. I’d be sipping coffee in an Allentown café, tears streaming down my cheeks.

Tonight I finished reading her 2010 book, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. It took me weeks, in part because again I hung on every word.

If you haven’t heard about it, Unbroken is the extraordinary true story of Olympic athlete and Army Air Forces bombardier Louis Zamperini, who became a prisoner of the Japanese and endured unimaginable cruelty. Put it on your must-read list.

A lot has been written about this book, glowingly. I just want to mention a particularly poignant moment in the epilogue that resonates for me. It’s not about Zamperini but his buddy Allen Phillips, a B-24 pilot who — with Zamperini — struggled through the ordeal of crashing in the Pacific, being lost at sea for many weeks and suffering as a POW.

Zamperini’s story was celebrated after the war, and Phillips was in his shadow. Near the end of his life, during a nursing home event to honor him, Phillips talked about his experiences in the Pacific, and the people who gathered around to hear him were in awe. His face lit up.

I know what that’s about. I’ve seen the light come to the faces of World War II veterans I interview for my Morning Call series, War Stories: In Their Own Words.

It’s what happens when they know that someone is listening.

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