On the TunneySideof Sports July 14, 2014 #497 Up next…On Being Unbroken.
After further review…There is no doubt that the U.S. of A. lost a true American hero recently with the death of Louis Silvie Zamperini at the age of 97. He was known as “Louie” throughout his life, beginning at school in Torrance, CA, where he had arrived from New York with his Italian immigrant parents and three siblings. Louie spoke little English and was bullied by his classmates until his father taught him to box. Fast-moving and pugnacious, he soon was whippin’ everybody, and outrunning the cops on frequent occasions, when they were in pursuit of the problem kid. Maybe that was the essence of being “Unbroken” for him.
Louie’s older brother, Pete, saved him from veering into a life of crime by introducing him to track. It didn’t take Louie long to achieve success. At 17 he set a world interscholastic record in the mile, with a time of 4:21.2 clocking. Then he won the California state mile championship at 4:21.8, which earned him a scholarship to the University of Southern California. At 19 Louie qualified for the 1936 Olympics being held in Berlin. With Adolf Hitler in the stands, Louie finished eighth in the 5,000-meter event (about 3.1 miles), running a remarkable final lap (about 400 meters) time of 56 seconds.
Louie enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War ll, and became a commissioned second lieutenant in the Pacific theater. A bombardier on two of the infamous B-24 Liberator bombers, he survived intense combat in one and a ditching in the other. Louie and one other survivor spent 47 days at sea on a raft before landing in the Marshall Islands, and the remainder of the war in a succession of prisoner-of-war camps. The details of his amazing experience can be found in Laura Hillenbrand’s 2010 bestseller “Unbroken”. The film of the same name, directed by Angelina Jolie, will be out this year.
We now turn to Lonnie Ballentine, 23, who had a great career playing football for the University of Memphis. Only great enough, however, for Ballentine to be drafted into the NFL by the Houston Texans in the 7th round, at selection #256 – the final player taken. He now has the title of “Mr. Irrelevant”. He was recognized last week at a banquet in his honor for his spot at the bottom of the draft. If perhaps he can find inspiration in Louie’s life example and remain “unbroken”, a full, honorable career will be his.
Will you maintain an attitude of never giving up?
Jim’s book “101 Best of TunneySide of Sports is available here.