Posts Tagged ‘Billy Graham’

Stuck for a Z topic, the Daughter said, “How about Louis Zamperini?” Of course. She read parts of Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (2010), a biography of Zamperini by Laura Hillenbrand, for her English class.

Louis, born on January 26, 1917 in Olean, NY to Italian immigrant parents, grew up a troublemaker in Torrance, California. As a child, he was smoking and drinking, stealing and fighting. Trying to impress some high school girls, he joined the school’s track team, and ended up breaking a national high school record, running the mile in only 4 minutes, 21 seconds.

Zamperini competed in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, and even met Adolf Hitler at the 1936 Olympics. He didn’t medal, though he seemed like a sure bet for the 1940 team, but the games were called off because of World War II.

Louis Zamperini enlisted in the Army Air Corps in September 1941, cheating death several times as a B-24 bombardier. His missions included a famous December 1942 air raid on Wake Island. .

On May 27, 1943, Zamperini and his crew were participating in a search and rescue mission over the Pacific when their plane suddenly lost power to two of its engines, careening into the sea. Zamperini and two others were the only ones of an 11-man crew to initially survive.

One of the trio, Francis McNamara, perished after 33 days at sea. Zamperini and Russell Allen Phillips drifted for another two weeks before being captured by the Japanese Navy near the Marshall Islands.

Zamperini was tortured daily as a POW. Over the next two years, he also suffered from disease, exposure, and starvation. The Japanese tried to use him as a propaganda tool, but once he agreed to read a message telling his parents he was alive, he refused to cooperate any further.

After the war, he used alcohol to fight the nightmares. Zamperini says he was saved from his post-war trauma after witnessing a sermon by the evangelical preacher Billy Graham in 1949.

In 1950, Zamperini returned to Japan for the first time since his liberation to address some Japanese war criminals. He shook hands and embraced many of his old camp guards. He became an inspirational speaker, and he wrote two memoirs, both titled Devil at My Heels (1956 and 2003).

Zamperini’s remarkable story of survival garnered new attention in 2010 with the Hillenbrand book, which hit #1 on the New York Times best-seller list. Louis became a celebrity all over again when he charmingly made the rounds with Angelina Jolie, who was directing the film Unbroken, based on the book, starring Jack O’Connell as Louis, which was released on Christmas Day 2014.

Louis Zamperini died from pneumonia on July 2, 2014.

There’s a movie sequel to Unbroken, Path To Redemption (2017), with Samuel Hunt as Zamperini and Will Graham playing his grandfather, Billy Graham.

For ABC Wednesday

When I was nine years old, while watching a Billy Graham crusade on television, I had a “born again” experience. I don’t remember whose house I was at, but it was on Oak Street, between Winding Way and Dickinson Street, across the street and half a block from my church in Binghamton, NY.

It was a specific theology that wasn’t so different, I suppose, from what I learned from Trinity AME Zion, but it resonated so much that, somehow, I got recruited by the secretary at my school, Pat, for Friday Night Bible Club. My sister Leslie soon went as well, and we attended for several years.

I’m fairly sure it was Pat who gave me a copy of Peace with God, Graham’s 1952 classic book about salvation. This codified my budding theology so that I thought, as did others, that I would grow up to be a preacher.

I could quote Scripture pretty darn well in those days. Psalm 119:11 – “Thy word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against Thee.” Didn’t have to look it up, even after all these years.

By 9th grade, I started carrying around my Bible to school. By 10th grade, my friend Bobby and I would walk over two miles to the Primitive Methodist Church in Johnson City every Sunday afternoon for more fundamentalist training, and then usually walk back.

I really became “holier than thou.” Even when some of my friends drank and smoked pot, in my presence, I remained resolute. Until I wasn’t.

When I understood that all those people in India and China who never accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior, who perhaps never really even heard of him, were supposedly going to go to a literally fiery pit called Hell – which is why why we “needed” so many missionaries – I simply couldn’t accept that.

Fairly soon thereafter, I fell away from this belief system, which I had initially learned from Billy Graham, and it took a long time to find my way back to a theology that made sense to me.

I started re-examining the preacher. His close ties with Presidents, when I had been younger, I saw as a good thing in spreading the Word.

His friendship with Richard Nixon, in particular, became problematic for me, as I believed even by my freshman year in college that Graham was co-opted by the power elite, rather than speaking truth to that power.

To his credit, Graham eventually came to that same conclusion himself. He actively discouraged Jerry Falwell, a founder of the Moral Majority, from mixing religion and politics.

“Evangelicals can’t be closely identified with any particular party or person. We have to stand in the middle, to preach to all the people, right and left,” Graham said in 1981, according to Time magazine. “I haven’t been faithful to my own advice in the past. I will in the future.”

I have a soft spot in my heart for Billy Graham, despite his significant shortcomings, as accurately laid out by Arthur. Not so for his dreadful son Franklin, whose appearance in Albany in 2016, I protested.

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