"Unbroken" Olympian and WWII Hero Louis Zamperini appearance

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Atlanta, GA – Many heroic stories have been told of the horrors and suffering prisoners of war have been forced to endure while being held captive by seemingly inhumane guards. To most, the unthinkable atrocities perpetrated upon them are unfathomable. World War II prisoner of war Louis Zamperini relied upon unwavering will to remain unbroken by a sadistic Japanese POW guard, known as “The Bird”, and, later, the demons of post-traumatic stress.  On Sunday, January 27, 2013, Mr. Zamperini will be the featured guest during two worship services, 9:00am and 11:00am, at Peachtree Presbyterian Church located at 3434 Roswell Road NW in the Buckhead area of greater Atlanta.

Mr. Zamperini’s life story has been chronicled in the biographical novel –“Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption -” (Random House) by celebrated author, Laura Hillenbrand. Mrs. Hillenbrand’s previous literary triumph, -“Seabiscuit: An American Legend”-, became an international best seller and the basis for the Academy Award nominated film, “Seabiscuit.”

Born and raised in Torrance, California, Zamperini was a troubled youth who spent most of his free time getting into mischief and running from the local constabulary. On the suggestion of the city’s Chief of Police, Louis, and with the support of his older brother Pete, began what would become a celebrated career in track. He honed his natural running ability while attending the University of Southern California where he received much acclaim. His prolific achievements led to the honor of being selected as a member of the 1936 United States Olympic team competing in Berlin, Germany. His roommate was the legendary Jesse Owens.

During the finals of the 5,000 meters, Louis ran the final lap of the race in 56 seconds, the fastest time ever recorded at that point in history. This feat so impressed Adolf Hitler that he requested that Zamperini be escorted to his private viewing box in order to congratulate him. During a recent appearance on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno”, Louis described the experience of meeting the German dictator with an obvious feeling of distain by dismissing their handshake with the simple comment of “I touched his skin.”

In 1940, Zamperini was drafted into the Army Air Corps eventually becoming a bombardier as part of a crew for “superman”, a B-24 bomber. In May 1943, while on a search and rescue mission aboard a trouble-ridden plane known as the “Green Hornet”, Zamperini and his fellow crewmen crashed into the Pacific Ocean. Louis and the pilot spent 47 days drifting over 2,000 miles before being rescued and captured by a Japanese naval ship.  At the time of their capture, each man weighed 80 pounds, half of Louis’ Olympic weight.

Zamperini spent the next two years incarcerated at various POW camps, mostly at the mercy of a sadistic Japanese Commandant the prisoners nicknamed “The Bird.” He and his fellow prisoners endured unspeakable pain and suffering. Back home, Louis was presumed dead and was memorialized in print as well as having a major track and field competition named in his honor. Louis refused to succumb to the relentless abuse, deplorable living conditions and near-starvation that he and his imprisoned comrades were subjected to on a daily basis. At the end of the war, American troops liberated Zamperini and the surviving POWs from their collective misery.  Louis was repatriated and recognized as a true national hero.  He returned to his hometown, soon married and attempted to meld back into American society.   But, the horrors of his war-time experiences haunted him.  He began to drink heavily and withdrew.  When a young Billy Graham set up a tent in Los Angeles and led his first major revival meeting, Zamperini’s wife attended. She gave Louis an ultimatum: attend that night’s revival or face a life alone.  With trepidation, Louis joined his bride at the night’s faith-based event.  Realizing that he needed to change, Zamperini turned his life over to Jesus Christ.  As Louis described the experience, “From that point forward, my nightmares ceased.” He would experience a complete spiritual and personal turnaround. His new found life direction led him to work with troubled youth and be an example of the indomitable human desire to overcome unbelievable personal challenges.

Zamperini’s story came to life for Peachtree Presbyterian Church’s Senior Pastor Vic Pentz when he read Unbroken during his sabbatical last summer. “I am often taken by stories of risk, endurance and heroism, but Louis’ chronicle of Olympic fame, unspeakable suffering at the hands of Japanese captors while a World War II POW, his return to the United States and eventual relationship with Jesus Christ is one of the most incredible stories I have ever heard” says Pentz.

“Every summer, I plan the sermon themes for the coming year. The thought of having Louis himself come to speak on a Sunday morning seemed too good to be true” says Senior Pastor Pentz. “I’ve had many conversations in the past year in which some has asked ‘Have you read  Unbroken about that POW from World War II?’ Louis shares his experiences with groups around the country; there was no question that he could serve as an inspirational mentor to our parishioners and the entire community. His appearance as part of our schedule of weekly services became an important inclusion.”

The public is encouraged to arrive early for each service in order to find suitable seating in the Main Sanctuary. Each service will streamed live to The Lodge, PPC’s facility located on Roswell Road NW across from the church’s main campus in Buckhead, which has seating for up to 500 people. Ample parking will be available at both locations.

Now, at the age of 96 years old, Louis remains active. He travels the country speaking to groups of all ages, encouraging them to face and triumph over the numerous challenges of their lives. 

His unbelievable story of personal sacrifice and eventual victory is an inspiration to all who hear it.  Now in script development at Universal Studios, Zamperini’s heroic story will once again come to life at movie theaters around the world in the near future (estimated premiere in 2015). Recently, the studio announced that Angelina Jolie has been selected to direct the film.

The public is encouraged to arrive early for each service in order to find suitable seating in the Main Sanctuary. Each service will streamed live to The Lodge, PPC’s facility located on Roswell Road NW across from the church’s main campus in Buckhead, which has seating for up to 500 people. Ample parking will be available at both locations.

Peachtree Presbyterian Church serves as a home for many organizations, classes, events and services that serve to improve our collective human condition, uplift one’s spirit, confirm an individual’s faith and continuously encourage everyone to reach their personal life and religious goals. For information concerning Sunday morning service times and locations, sermon schedule, directions to the church and other points of interest, please visit www.peachtreepres.org or call us at 404-842-5800.

nancy Geiser January 21, 2013 at 10:32 PM
Will Mr. Zamperini ever come to Colorado or New Mexico to speak? I would give anything to see him. Nancy Geiser faithnotfear1@yahoo.com


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