Faith of My Father: The Lasting Legacy of Louis Zamperini
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Louis Zamperini, the subject of not one but two major motion pictures, is truly an American hero. The battle-scarred, former POW’s life is a remarkable one, highly worthy of being shared with millions on the big screen. Even though he was a tortured soul in his early years, Zamperini eventually learned to find deeper meaning in the miracles that sustained him. Quite simply, he learned to live life well.
Following the success of 2014’s Unbroken, directed by Angelina Jolie, comes the follow-up, Unbroken: Path to Redemption, released to general movie audiences in September and now available on home video.
I recently sat down with Louis’ son, Luke Zamperini, to discuss his father’s legacy, why the elder Zamperini’s story is so fascinating, and the lasting spiritual impact that his life conveys.
In 2014, the first Unbroken movie was released to great success and critical acclaim. Now, four years later, Unbroken: Path to Redemption is released. From the outside looking in, it appears that in your role as executive producer you felt your father’s story was not complete. Would that be accurate to say?
As great as the first film was, it didn't tell the whole story. The climax in my dad's life happened after the war when he came home with post-traumatic stress disorder that tilted him toward living a life of hatred toward his former captors. And of course the climax occurs when he comes to faith at the Billy Graham Los Angeles Crusade in 1949. That crusade made Reverend Graham a household name. After that, my father was able to go back and forgive his prison guards for what they had done to him. Coming to faith changed his entire life so that needed to be told. And I wasn't the only one who thought that we needed to continue the story with Unbroken: Path to Redemption. The original producer (Matt Baer) of the first film was the one who was actually the catalyst to getting a continuation of my dad’s story made.
Your father led a remarkable life and short of something you might find in the Bible, Louis Zamperini’s story may be one of the most epic tales of forgiveness and redemption of the last century. Why do you think his story is so fascinating to generations of people?
My Dad always believed that things happen for a reason. One of his favorite Bible verses was… And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. So, he felt that everything in his life happened for the purpose of him being a witness to the power of God in his life. Will Graham, who plays his grandfather Billy Graham in this film, it is his opinion that my father’s life is the greatest story of forgiveness outside of the Bible that he's aware of. And it is certainly is one of the greater stories of the 20th century.
You just mentioned Billy Graham. Your father and Reverend Graham had a real special bond together that they carved out over the course of 50 years. By all accounts, they had a great friendship together. What can you tell me about their relationship? Perhaps you could share something that people didn't know about them?
I was looking through my dad's 1949 day timer recently and it contained sort of mundane entries throughout the year about having to get a car fixed, go meet somebody, or mail a package. And then, all of a sudden, on October 9th of that year, the entry says, “Cynthia comes to the Lord”. And then a few days later on October 16th, it says, “Louis comes to the Lord.” And then his day timer entries become different. It starts being, “Went back to the tent”. “Went back to the tent again”, “Gave my testimony to tent.” Other entries would say, “Went to Church of the Open Door, received $20”, “Went to Fountain Avenue Baptist.” All of a sudden, his life had changed. He got saved in the meeting, then came back and gave his testimony with Reverend Graham. As a matter of fact, I have a copy of Life Magazine from November 1949 that featured a story on Billy Graham. And when you turn the page there he is standing with my parents. So they met each other right away and they liked each other. Every time Reverend Graham came to California, my dad would go and appear on stage and give his testimony. We have a ton of letters between the two, back and forth over the decades. I got to see them reunited in 2004. I believe it was during the last crusade that Billy preached. We went into the green room at the Rose Bowl where he was speaking and these two old guys hugged each other and confessed their love for each other. It was really something to see. They stayed friends all their lives. Interestingly enough, his grandson Will (Graham) and I have gotten quite close as well. We worked on the film together and I correspond with him quite frequently.
That's great. It's been a few years since your dad has passed. As I have mentioned, two movies have been made about your father's life. Over that period, you've probably had some time to reflect about all that has transpired. What do you think your father's greatest legacy is as we move forward?
He came back from Japan in 1950 from forgiving the Japanese guards who tortured him. He started a boys' camp that was a non-profit. He was reaching out to at risk boys. Back in those days we called them juvenile delinquents. He spent a life of service giving back to other people. When he passed away, as a family, we just decided that we needed to keep the camp going. So we continue with it. We have rebranded the Louis Zamperini Boy’s Camp to the Louis Zamperini Foundation. I do what my dad did. I go into the youth correctional facilities and preach the Gospel to these kids. I go to high schools where they may have been studying the book Unbroken (by Laura Hillenbrand) and talk to the kids there. I actually discovered that the book Unbroken is being taught in public schools across the country. We found this out because the teachers would be contacting me and wanting to know if I would talk to their classroom after they finished reading the book. In Texas, we discovered a teacher who had been teaching a curriculum based on Laura Hillenbrand’s book about my father for four years. Her name is Heather Fuller and she uses just a fantastic methodology for getting through to the kids. We have partnered with her and we are producing the Louis Zamperini Unbroken curriculum as a companion to the study of the book. We are planning to make it available in the second quarter of 2019 to as many schools as you might be interested in it.
I think the curriculum is tremendous because it really encourages kids to live a life of service and to give back from themselves and to make a positive impact in their own life but also in the lives of others.
It gives them hope and it gives them a role model in which to fashion their lives after. These kids are saying whenever they run into trouble they say, ‘Well, what would Louis do? And it has helped them to make a decision on how to move forward in their lives.
Unbroken: Path Redemption has just released on home video. From your perspective, what would you like to see audiences get out of the movie after they see it? What is your greatest hope for the film?
My greatest hope is that it will be in every household in America. Everybody that I've ever met that is aware of my father's story and particularly if they've read the book or seen the films, their lives are changed. There's something very inspiring about my father's story. What I'm hoping is that people will get their hands on Unbroken: Path to Redemption and use it to inspire their children to grow up to be loving, forgiving God-minded people. Stories like my dad's and more like his could actually make a difference generationally for our young people.
Watch the Unbroken: Path to Redemption Trailer:
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