photo of the Japanese find Louis and his crew at sea

Refuse to Lose – A True Story

I hate flying. I have nightmares about flying over water and the plane goes down. Everybody gets killed except me. So there I am in the middle of the ocean with sharks swimming all around me. I’m convinced that everything in the ocean wants to kill or eat you. So I never want to be in the ocean. I don’t want to swim in it. I don’t want to boat in it. And I especially don’t want to be flying over it.

I had to fly to Las Vegas for a weekend for business last week. It was a three hour flight and because the 6:00 P.M. CDT flight was delayed several hours, it got dark out during the flight. So I decided to watch a movie to kill time. On the Delta flight, I had thousands of movies to choose from on the screen in front of me. But what do I choose? I chose a movie I had heard a little about from someone called “Unbroken”. I like WWII movies and this movie was about a WWII guy who survived being in a Japanese prison camp for most of the war.

What is ironic about this choice of movies is that the main character is a bombardier on a B52 bomber that went down in the ocean. It was supposed to drop bombs on Japan. The plane was in tough shape and had mechanical problems with both engines. And where did they crash? Into the ocean, or course. My worst nightmare in living color. Why did I choose to watch this movie? What happens? You guessed it. Sharks! And what do the sharks do? They eat one of the three guys who survived the B52 crash into the ocean. How did I know that was going to happen?

I had thousands of movies to watch on that Delta flight from Minneapolis to Las Vegas. Why on God’s green earth did I choose this one?

Now granted there is not much water and certainly no sharks between Minneapolis and Las Vegas. But I hate flying. I hate oceans. And I hate sharks for reasons previously stated!

photo of Louis and his older brother

Louis and his older brother

The “Unbroken” Movie is a True Story

The movie had a great theme.

The central character in the movie, Louie, was this Italian kid who was always getting into trouble at school, in the neighborhood, and with the cops. His family was the only Italian family living in a small town in the USA, that was not used to living with immigrants. It was the 1940’s.

One day, his older brother asked him, why do you always have to get into trouble? They (the townspeople) don’t want us here to begin with. Louie answers and says “ What difference does it make? I’m not worth anything anyway.” Oh, oh. Sounds like a big internal struggle taking place inside this kid’s mind. That was a pretty strange answer to a simple question.

photo of Louis's brother teaching him to win

Louis learns to win

His older brother takes Louie aside and says, “you can be the best at whatever you decide. You can win whenever you decide to win”. Louie was always getting beat up because he was young, bored and different. He was an Italian kid living in “small town USA” with “cookie-cutter” Americans who were not used to anything or anyone outside their routine and mundane lives.

The older brother ran for the school’s track and field team. He was fairly good in his chosen sport and had earned respect from his coach and his team members.

Louie’s answer to his brother’s question, that he didn’t feel that he was worth anything, concerned his older brother. So the older brother felt compelled to intervene in his little brother’s life. He became a personal coach in order to teach his little brother that he could excel in track and field and make something of himself. The older brother’s attitude was that you can win whenever you decide that you can’t be beaten. It’s just a decision: a mental thing. The body and your mind respond accordingly.

Louis Earns a Spot on the Olympic Team

photo of Louis under a B52

Louis under a B52

The little brother, Louie, became quite good at track and field and was asked to run with the upper classmen team. He continued to win races. He had decided that he would remain unbeaten, despite the odds and who may challenge him. He ran in the regional track meets against runners from other states and won.

He caught the attention of the press and was recruited for the US Olympic team. He made the team by continuing to win. He went to the Olympics, which were held in Germany in 1936. He won his event there too and became internationally known. The famed Jesse Owens, the fastest man alive, also ran in that same Olympics.

Louis Joins the Army During WWII

Louie grew up with his older brother teaching him that in life, you win when you decide you will never be beaten. It’s just an attitude. The little brother joined the Army, entered WWII and wound up in that B52 bomber that crashed into the ocean.

photo of a B52 bomber from WWII

B52 bomber from WWII

After the plane crash, he and two of his fellow B52 crewmen were at sea in an inflatable raft for 45 days before a Japanese boat picked them up and made them prisoners of war.

One of the crewmen in the raft died and they had to bury him at sea. He as very negative and decided early on that they were all going to die in that raft. That was his attitude and his prophecy was soon self-fulfilled. He ate all their food because he didn’t see the sense of rationing it over time. He had made the decision in his mind that he was going to lose this battle with survival and that’s exactly what happened. The rest of the men in the raft watched the sharks eat him as soon as they said last rights and dropped him overboard.

His Time In a Japanese Prisoner of War Camp

photo of Louis and crew 45 days at sea

Louis and crew 45 days at sea

Louie and the other crewmen wound up in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. The camp was run by a headstrong, young, arrogant, Japanese officer who made it a habit of beating the hell out of Louie with a bamboo rod to see if he could break Louie’s spirit. The Japanese prison officer recognized upon meeting Louie that Louie was hard and determined. The Japanese officer tried everything. Beating him until he was senseless, making him stand in the same place for days, making him stand upside down for days, making him lift a heavy beams and hold them over his head for days. Everything. But Louie would not be broken. One day, the officer got frustrated and started crying because he could not break this young kid’s spirit. The officer got the idea in his head that if he could break this one determined U.S. soldier, than Japan could break the spirit of the rest of the U.S. forces and perhaps win the war.

You see, the Japanese officer and Louie were just alike. Both had a strong spirit. The officer told Louie that he saw that as soon as the kid came into the prison camp. He saw that Louie had an unbeatable spirit. So the Japanese officer was determined to break him while he paid little attention to the other prisoners. I think deep down this officer knew that if he could not break this one man’s spirit, than how could Japan break the spirit of an entire country like the USA? It was that important to him. He also didn’t like the fact that this kid was a famous Olympian. Japan was also represented in the 1940 Olympics in Germany. This rubbed a little more salt in the officer’s wound.

The War Comes to an End

Photo of Jack O'Connell

Jack O’Connell played Louis

The moral of this movie was that this kid’s spirit was never broken. He always won because he decided in his mind that he would win every time he wanted to win.

The war came to an end. The Japanese officer and the other guards at the prison camp disappeared. They went into hiding in order to avoid being put on trial as war criminals once the allied forces found out how badly they had treated their prisoners. The prisoners were eventually rescued and sent back to the USA.

Another Olympics

Years later, another Olympics took place. It was held (of all places, in Japan, 1964). Louie was chosen to carry the Olympic torch through the streets of Japan and into the Olympic stadium. At that time, he had aged and was an old man. The war had changed him and he saw that the path through life was one of forgiveness, not of hate for your enemies and revenge. He became a Catholic priest and had a family.

The Japanese officer was eventually pardoned for his war crimes by the USA. Louie tried to contact him so he could meet up with him during the Olympic games in Japan. The Japanese officer never came and never responded to Louie’s invitation to forgive and become friends. He Japanese officer still lived in hate for the one man he could not break.

What Louis can Teach Us

Photo of Louis holding the Olympic torch

Louis holding the Olympic torch

It was a great movie and a great theme that taught many valuable lessons. I learned that always having an attitude of winning will make you a winner in any situation; even if that situation is a petty fear of sharks, flying, and oceans. You can beat your fears if you decide that you will never be beaten.

I carried that same positive attitude into my meetings in Las Vegas and those meetings were some of the best that I have attended.

It was just a movie that I had heard mentioned by someone. All I wanted to do was kill time on a boring flight at night. But I got so much more from that one movie.

 

(Authors note – If you have read many articles on this site, then you must have figured out by now that I’m somewhat of a personal development nut. This is a true story of Louie Zamperini. It is based on the book “Seabiscuit: An American Legend” by Laura Hillenbrand. The movie, “Unbroken” was produced and directed by Angelina Jolie. Decide to win now and keep on winning. It’s just a decision.)

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