I recently read a book which Bonnie Kingsly recommended. The book tells the life of Louis Zamperini. Zamperini was in the 1936 Olympics held in Germany. He was famous for setting records for how fast he could run the mile.
Later he was planning to enter the next Olympic competition but it was canceled because of WWII. Zamperini entered the war and served on a B 24. He was shot down and spent 47 days at sea and then around three years as a Japanese prisoner of war. He was badly mistreated in the POW camps.
Following the war he dealt with post traumatic stress disorder. This caused him to plunge into alcoholism which brought on a host of other problem. He was married and had one child, but his marriage was being threatened with divorce. Every time he closed his eyes at night he was plagued with memories of his time as a POW. He was filled with hate and wanted to kill one particular guard (Mutsuhiro Watanabe (nicknamed “The Bird”), who was later included in General Douglas MacArthur’s list of the 40 most wanted war criminals in Japan. Finally in 1949 as the 31 year old Billy Graham was preaching an evangelical crusade in Los Angeles, Louis wife gave her life to Christ at the crusade. She eventually convinced Louis to also attend. Louis attended once and was convicted but left in anger during Graham’s invitation. Louis’ wife Cynthia convinced him to attend again. He did and started to leave again during the invitation. But he was convicted and went forward giving his life to Christ.
Following the conversion his life changed dramatically. He went home that night, and at the time when he would usually drink alcohol to excess, he dumped his alcohol down the drain. His hate was changed to forgiveness. His marriage lasted until his wife’s death. He never had nightmares of his time as a POW again. He later went back to Japan and spoke to the guards who were accused and convicted of war crimes. He forgave them. But the one guard who was the worst to Louis, Mutsuhiro Watanabe (nicknamed “The Bird”), was thought dead and Louis never was able to talk to him. Later they found out he was alive and Louis was scheduled to meet with him and wrote the letter below. But he was not able to meet with him as Watanabe declined the invitation. Someone was supposed to take the letter to him, but no one knows if Watanabe received it. The letter is below:
To Matsuhiro [sic] Watanabe,
As a result of my prisoner of war experience under your unwarranted and unreasonable punishment, my post-war life became a nightmare. It was not so much due to the pain and suffering as it was the tension of stress and humiliation that caused me to hate with a vengeance.
Under your discipline, my rights, not only as a prisoner of war but also as a human being, were stripped from me. It was a struggle to maintain enough dignity and hope to live until the war’s end.
The post-war nightmares caused my life to crumble, but thanks to a confrontation with God through the evangelist Billy Graham, I committed my life to Christ. Love replaced the hate I had for you. Christ said, “Forgive your enemies and pray for them.”
As you probably know, I returned to Japan in 1952 [sic] and was graciously allowed to address all the Japanese war criminals at Sugamo prison… I asked them about you, and was told that you probably had committed Hara Kiri, which I was sad to hear. At that moment, like the others, I also forgave you and now would hope that you would also become a Christian.
Hillenbrand, Laura. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. Random House, Inc.. New York. 2010. Specifically pages 396-397 for the letter and pages 368-398 for Louis conversion and life transformation.