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The Billy Graham Sermon That Changed World War II Veteran Louis Zamperini

August 29th, 2014 Posted in Lifestyle
A few years ago I heard a sermon about a young war hero who became a Christian later in life through the preaching of Rev. Billy Graham & forgive the people who committed horrible crimes against him during the war. What a story! I went on to read the book “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand which tell Louis Zamperini’s story in full. Last month the world lost this famous veteran. Later this year Angeline Jolie will share Zamperini’s story on the big screen.– Ashley

Louis Zamperini’s greatest victory came through faith in Christ

By Jamie Dean of

Louis-ZamperiniWhen I met Louis Zamperini at the Billy Graham Library here in Charlotte on a hot June morning in 2011, dozens of eager fans had already formed a long line outside, clutching water bottles and copies of the book that had made the World War II veteran famous.

The decorated war hero — who died yesterday at age 97—was in town to sign copies of Laura Hillenbrand’s best-selling account of his extraordinary life. Unbroken had already topped the New York Times bestseller list, and it remains on the list today, ranking No. 4. According to Hillenbrand’s website, only four other nonfiction books in history have remained on the list longer.

The book sketches the remarkable tale of Zamperini’s experiences as an Olympic runner and a World War II soldier who courageously survived a plane crash, 47 days on a raft in the Pacific Ocean, and two years of brutality in Japanese prison camps.

But in a small meeting room near the back of the Billy Graham Library’s barn-shaped building on that June morning in 2011, Zamperini mostly talked about other people.

Sitting at the end of a long conference table, wearing his trademark navy Olympic jacket and his red University of Southern California hat, Zamperini first talked about Hillenbrand. The author of the bestseller Seabiscuit had spent seven years painstakingly piecing together an account of Zamperini’s life while combating a debilitating case of chronic fatigue syndrome.

Extreme weakness and vertigo confined Hillenbrand to her home, and she never met Zamperini in person while she worked on the book. Instead, she spent hundreds of hours interviewing Zamperini and others by phone, and researching archive materials and official documents via the internet and mail. The pair became friends without meeting, and Hillenbrand once called Zamperini “a virtuoso of joy.”

When the subject of resilience came up, Zamperini talked about Hillenbrand that June morning: “Now that’s a courageous lady.” He was so struck by her perseverance through her illness, Zamperini did what seemed most logical to him: “I sent her one of my Purple Hearts.”

When Hillenbrand, then 43, didn’t have strength to travel for a book tour, Zamperini took on the job for her. The then-94-year-old embarked on a book-signing excursion that took him to stops all over the country, where he spent hours giving media interviews and meeting admiring fans.

Next, Zamperini talked about Billy Graham. The veteran’s appearance at the Billy Graham Library that morning carried special significance for Zamperini: He became a Christian during a Billy Graham crusade in Los Angeles in 1949.

A huge, black-and-white photo of a young Graham preaching to thousands hung on the wall as Zamperini remembered his conversion to Christianity. He had returned from the war traumatized and depressed from the extreme abuse he endured, and he had turned to alcohol for relief. He initially resisted his wife’s suggestions that the pair attend Graham’s tent meeting, but he eventually relented.

Hillenbrand located the sermon Graham preached that October evening in 1949, and included the scene in Unbroken. As Zamperini battled anger and bitter memories of the hellish ordeal of war, Graham preached: “Here tonight, there’s a drowning man, a drowning boy, a drowning girl that is out lost in the sea of life.”

The next night, Zamperini returned to the tent, and Graham again preached the gospel of salvation from sin through faith in Christ. This time Zamperini responded. He and his wife both embraced Christ.

Zamperini said he was thankful for Graham’s ministry, and thrilled that Hillenbrand included the account in her book. (Hopefully the forthcoming Angelina Jolie–directed film based on the book will do likewise.) Shortly after the release of Unbroken, Zamperini found a letter in his mailbox from Graham. “Dear Louis,” it began. “My associate read me parts of the new book about you yesterday. What a life you have lived. What a description you have in the book of your conversion to Christ in 1949, and the great part that [your wife] Cynthia played in it. … I had tears in my eyes and praise in my heart for what God has done through you.”

I asked Zamperini—who maintained a devout Christian faith and service throughout the rest of his life—how important it was for the story of his conversion and faith to make it into the book. His reply was simple: “There wouldn’t be a book without it.”

Zamperini saw his conversion as the hinge for all that went before it, and all that followed in his long life. He wanted as many other people as possible to hear about salvation through Christ through his own story: “That’s the message of the book.”

The Sermon That Changed Louis Zamperini:

Unbroken Official Trailer:

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption

UnbrokenOn a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood. Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared. It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane’s bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft and pulling himself aboard. So began one of the most extraordinary odysseys of the Second World War.

The lieutenant’s name was Louis Zamperini. In boyhood, he’d been a cunning and incorrigible delinquent, breaking into houses, brawling, and fleeing his home to ride the rails. As a teenager, he had channeled his defiance into running, discovering a prodigious talent that had carried him to the Berlin Olympics and within sight of the four-minute mile. But when war had come, the athlete had become an airman, embarking on a journey that led to his doomed flight, a tiny raft, and a drift into the unknown.

Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, a foundering raft, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater. Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humour; and brutality with rebellion. His fate, whether triumph or tragedy, would be suspended on the fraying wire of his will.

Unbroken is an unforgettable story of a man’s journey into extremity, it is a testament to the resilience of the human mind, body, and spirit.

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