Louis Zamperini and Billy Graham: A Miracle Works

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What do Louis Zamperini and Billy Graham have to do with each other? Were they friends?

Louis Zamperini and Billy Graham became lifelong friends after Louis saw Billy Graham preach. Graham’s sermon encouraged Louis to accept Christ. Louis Zamperini and Billy Graham undertook projects together to encourage people to seek forgiveness and find Christianity.

Louis Zamperini and Billy Graham: An Awakening

In late 1949, Billy Graham, a young unknown man at the time, came to Los Angeles and performed a miracle. He set up what would become a massive revival residency. In just a month, he went from having 2,000 attendants at his sermons to 10,000. Word spread around the city and made its way to Cynthia. She begged Louie to take her, but he refused, so Cynthia went by herself.

Cynthia and Louie were living separate lives in the same apartment. She was still planning on filing for a divorce, but after she attended Graham’s sermon, she came home and told Louie the divorce was off. She’d had a religious awakening, and she wanted Louie to come next time to experience it. After much persistence, Louie finally agreed to go. He didn’t know it then, but it was the beginning of a friendship between Louis Zamperini and Billy Graham.

That first night, Louie became angry when Graham asked the congregation how long it had been since they’d prayed. The words poked at a dormant memory fighting to get out, and Louie felt cornered. At the next sermon, which Cynthia again persuaded him to attend, Graham said something that changed everything: “God works miracles one after another…. God says, ‘If you suffer, I’ll give you the grace to go forward.” To Louis Zamperini, Billy Graham’s words meant something.

Louie saw the morning in the doldrums, when he was certain they’d been led there by divine intervention. He saw the wires entangling his body as the Green Hornet sank and waking to find them inexplicably fallen away. He saw the Japanese plane shooting at their rafts but not one of them hit. He saw the prison camps and all he’d endured. Then his mind landed on the memory scratching at the surface—praying in the raft and promising to serve God if he saved him. 

At that moment, Louie felt rain falling from the sky as he hunkered down in the raft. The flashback stopped, and he was suddenly filled with light. When they returned home, Louie threw out every bottle of alcohol and vice he’d used during the last years of despair. That night, he didn’t dream of the Bird. He would never have a flashback or dream of the Bird again. To Louis Zamperini, Billy Graham changed his life.

The Calling

Louis was a new man with a new purpose. When he thought of his past now, he only thought of the graciousness of God to help him survive. He became a Christan speaker, adding his awakening to his previous story. He saved up enough money to buy a small house for his family. But there was a question he still needed an answer to, and he had to go to Japan to get it

A year after the night at Graham’s sermon, Louie stood in front of Sugamo Prison in Tokyo, where his tormentors were being held. He looked over a room full of guards and took in the faces of Jimmie, the Quack, and others he recognized. The person he didn’t see was the Bird. For Louis Zamperini, Billy Graham’s sermons gave him strength to do this, and believe in his own strenght.

When Louie was told about the Bird’s suicide, he thought he would feel cheated or relieved. But all Louie felt was sadness. In that moment, he saw the Bird not as a villain, but as a man who’d gone astray down a bad path and never found his way back. The last thing Louie expected to feel was forgiveness, but it was all he could feel. Before he left the prison, Louie hugged his former captors, tears streaming down his face. He was free of all the shame, anger, and fear. Louie could finally leave the war behind. 

When Louie returned from Japan, he bought an abandoned campsite and created the Victory Boys Camp, a nonprofit wilderness retreat for wayward boys. Louie took troubled youth into the mountains that had helped him find peace after the war. They rode horses, camped, rappelled, and learned survival skills. Louie talked to them about future jobs, and in the evenings, he told his story of survival and redemption around a campfire. The story of Louis Zamperini and Billy Graham helped make this mission possible.

Louie never lost his charm, good nature, and zeal for life. His body remained strong, and in his 60s, he still hiked the mountain weekly and could clock a mile in under six minutes. In his 70s, he started skateboarding. At 85, he went on an expedition to find the bodies of the nine marines at Kwajalein, but it was unsuccessful. At 90, he was still skiing and climbing trees. Louis Zamperini and Billy Graham became friends and worked together to spread the word of Christ.

Louie received many awards in his life, and his parents’ home was made a historic landmark. He carried the torch at five different Olympics, including one in Japan. Despite being declared dead in his 20s, Louie outlived his siblings and wife, the last of whom died in 2008.

Louis Zamperini and Billy Graham’s work together helped people to find Christ and seek peace. The two worked together over many years. Louis Zamperini and Billy Graham’s work even led Louis to Japan, where Louis spoke to the Japanese war criminals who’d once held him captive.

Louis Zamperini and Billy Graham: A Miracle Works

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best summary of Laura Hillenbrand's "Unbroken" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Unbroken summary:

  • How Louie Zamperini was on track to become an Olympic athlete until the war started
  • The unbelievable story of his capture as a prisoner of war
  • The ultimate fate of Louie and his captors

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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