CHARLOTTE, N.C. (BP) — Louis “Louie” Zamperini was indeed broken by his ordeal as a WWII prisoner of war and was only healed by his acceptance of Jesus Christ as savior, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association proclaims in its documentary response to the film “Unbroken.”
The BGEA documentary “Louis Zamperini: Captured by Grace” tells the story of Zamperini’s deliverance from alcoholism, nightmares and undiagnosed posttraumatic stress disorder suffered after drifting in the Pacific for 47 days and enduring two years of beatings, starvation and hard labor at a POW camp in Japan.
BGEA Vice President and associate evangelist Will Graham said the film “Unbroken” ended before telling the most important aspects of Zamperini’s life that were detailed in the bestselling Laura Hillenbrand book, “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.”
“I think that’s what the remarkable story of Unbroken is all about. Louis was not a man that was unbroken, he was actually broken when he came home,” Graham told Baptist Press. “The war had destroyed his life. ‘The Bird,’ the chief of all his tormentors, was still bothering him [in nightmares] years after the war. It wasn’t until he experienced forgiveness personally that he was able to forgive others. And he served God the rest of his life after that.”
The film Unbroken paints an incomplete picture by not including Louis’ decision to follow Christ, Graham said.
“To us that’s one of the most important parts of Louie’s life,” Graham said. “People have a misconception that when Louis came back from the war, and he hugged his family, that everything was peachy and rosy, everything looked good. But that’s when actually he was broken the most.
“It was those years after the war, when he had fame, he had everything given to him … but deep down inside he was wrestling with some demons in his life. And it was anger and hatred, and he wanted to murder his captors, and so he had nightmares every night, tormented again, by his captors, in his dreams that is. We know that’s PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), but back then they didn’t know what to call it,” Graham said. “It was because of that that Louie would end up giving his life over to Christ, and his life was forever changed. No more nightmares, no more hatred, and he was able to go back and tell his captors about Jesus Christ. So if Jesus Christ forgave him, then Jesus Christ could forgive them also.”
Zamperini accepted Christ at a Billy Graham crusade in Los Angeles in 1949 and began following Christ at that time. BGEA produced the documentary in hopes that Zamperini’s story would draw others to Christ, the younger Graham said.
“The only one purpose” of the documentary is “to tell people about Jesus Christ and that was really at Louie’s heart as well,” Graham said. “He wanted to tell people how Jesus changed his life. We want people to come to know Christ. We want to see people give their life over to Christ just like Louis.”
Many can identify with Louis’ struggles, Graham said. While many are not Olympians, soldiers or alcoholics, many face other tormentors.
“I think there’s a lot of Louies out there still that are broken, they’re addicted to things of this world, whether it’s drugs or alcohol. They have anger in their life, they’re miserable. They’re looking for hope in life, and they’re trying to find an answer, and that answer is the person and the work of Jesus Christ,” Graham said. “That’s the same message we want to throw and show everybody in the short film called Captured by Grace.”
The 30-minute BGEA documentary draws from Zamperini’s own testimony and his longtime relationship with Evangelist Billy Graham, Will’s grandfather. The documentary can be viewed at no charge at billygraham.tv, and television broadcasts are scheduled through Jan. 10. A DVD with bonus footage and the 1992 World Wide Pictures film “Zamperini: Still Carrying the Torch,” can be obtained for donations to BGEA of any dollar amount.
“It’s available to everyone. So anybody can go on our website and see it,” Graham said. “I’m hoping that maybe some pastors will see it and maybe show it to their church members, to some other alcoholic groups, or veterans.”
Graham represented the elder Billy Graham on a Rose Bowl Parade float depicting Zamperini’s life and sponsored by his hometown, Torrance, Calif. The float won the parade’s best theme award, and included people who were prominent in the life of Zamperini, who died in July, 2014.
The elder Graham has not seen the documentary or the movie “Unbroken,” but knows the story from his years of friendship with Zamperini.
“My grandfather’s 96 years old. He pretty much stays at home. The best way to describe it, he’s just old. And I don’t mean that in a disrespectful way, but I think most people can understand when you get older, things don’t work like they used to,” the grandson said. “But his mind’s still sharp; things like his eyes and his hearing, as you get older, they get worse. But he’s doing OK. He still has his sense of humor; he still likes to crack people up.
“He got sick right after Thanksgiving this year, but he rebounded pretty quickly. He’s actually been in pretty good health, probably some of the best health he’s been in for a long time.”