How Louis Zamperini’s Brother Helped Him Suceed

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Who was Louis Zamperini’s brother, Pete? How did Pete inspire Louis to be a better person?

Louis Zamperini’s brother, Pete, was older than him and encouraged Louis to work harder. Pete, also a runner, trained Louie for the Olympics, and the two were extremely close. Louis Zamperini’s brother also served during World War II.

Louis Zamperini’s Brother: The Guardian Angel

No one could have foreseen how Louie’s life would change because of a silly school prank. After discovering that his house key unlocked the school gym, Louie started letting kids into basketball games for free. When the principal found out, he banned Louie from all athletic teams and social events. Louie didn’t care, but Louis Zamperini’s brother Pete did. 

Pete was Louie’s older brother by less than two years and was everything Louie was not. Pete was good-looking, well-liked, well-mannered, and charismatic. He had such a good head on his shoulders, his parents often turned to him for advice when he was just a child. He once saved someone from drowning. 

Pete was a protective older brother to Louie and their sisters, Sylvia and Virginia, and Louie worshipped him. Pete was the only person Louie would listen to.

Pete went to the principal and advocated for his brother. He explained that Louie only acted out for attention. If Louie could be recognized for something good, it would change him, Pete was sure of it. He said allowing him to participate in a sport could be that good thing. The principal eventually gave in, and Louie became eligible for sports in 1932. 

Pete was a star athlete, earning ten varsity letters throughout high school. Four of those were in track, in which he had set the school record for the mile at 5:06. Pete had seen the speed with which Louie ran from trouble and thought he might have some running chops, as well. From that moment on, Pete took on the responsibility of training Louie to be a runner.

Louie’s first effort was dismal. He was humiliated in a crushing defeat during a foot race and was unmotivated to continue. But Pete forced Louie to train and monitored his training like a professional coach. Louie did better in another event, coming in third. As he crossed the finish line, he was enthralled by the cheering crowd. The prospect of more of that kind of attention was enough to make him keep training.

Pete rode behind Louie on his bicycle, whacking him with a stick. He made Louie pick himself up when he was tired and keep running. The training was grueling, but both boys started to see results. Louie became the first student from Torrance to compete in the All City Finals, in which he got fifth. But the constraints of his training regimen only exacerbated Louie’s restlessness. He missed the freedom of being wild, so the summer after the All City Finals, he left home.

Racing Toward Destiny

Louis Zamperini’s brother Pete joined the track team of a junior-college in Compton, but he didn’t release his self-imposed duty as Louie’s personal trainer. He came home on a regular basis and taught Louie about form and the psychology of running.

Pete also recognized a special physical component of Louie’s body. Louie’s hips were configured in a way that allowed them to roll as he ran, which meant his next step was already forming as the first step was landing. This trait gave him a massive stride, about seven feet long. This advantage was of most benefit in longer races. Pete wanted Louie to become a miler. 

During his sophomore year in 1933, it was finally time to put all his hard work over the summer and fall to the test when track season started in early winter. In his first competition, Louie broke Pete’s school record for the 880-yard race by two seconds. A week later, he broke another of Pete’s records, this time clocking a mile time three seconds faster than his brother’s at 5:03. Over the season, he would whittle down his mile time to 4:42, setting a new state record. 

Back From the Dead: Louis Zamperini and Brother Reunite

Louie was taken to an Okinawan hospital after he and the other Naoetsu men arrived at the train station. An American journalist interviewed Louie and heard his entire tale, starting with the crash of the Green Hornet. When the journalist asked if Louie could sum up his experience, Louie said if he knew he had to do it again, he’d commit suicide. 

Louie was still weak and sick with dysentery, and he learned his ankle injury would likely be the end of his running career. After 10 days on the island, Louie was transferred to a hospital in Honolulu, where he was greeted with fanfare, a new uniform, and a promotion to captain. After changing into his new clothes, Louie left his room only to realize later that he’d left his old shirt lying out. When he learned it had been thrown away, he was crushed. 

In San Diego, Louis Zamperini’s brother, Pete, was awoken by a friend on a September morning and given a copy of the LA Times. The headline sent him leaping through the air: “Zamperini Comes Back from the Dead.” It would be weeks before Louie was shipped back to the mainland, but when Pete learned he was taken to a hospital in San Francisco, Pete went AWOL and hitched a ride north. In mid-October, the brothers reunited in grand fashion. Louie was finally healed of dysentery and in good spirits, and Phil’s concerns about Louie’s mental health were assuaged. The brothers boarded a plane for Long Beach a few days later, and when the plane stopped, Louie jumped from it and ran to the waiting arms of his family. 

The family had a hearty celebration waiting for Louie at the house. The table was stacked with a feast and three years of Christmas and birthday presents. They ate, talked, and sank into a long-awaited merriment. No one talked about the war or the prison camps, and everyone was pleased to see Louie doing so well. 

As a surprise, Louise pulled out a copy of Louie’s radio broadcast she’d received from Lynn Moody. There was no way Louise could have known the events surrounding the broadcast or the trauma hearing it would cause her son. When she played it, Louie became undone. He started screaming and shaking and shouted for her to turn it off and break it into pieces. The previous joy was gone. Louie walked upstairs to his old room and dreamt of the Bird. 

Louis Zamperini’s brother was a huge influence and inspiration in his life. Louis Zamperini and his brother learned from each other in everything they did, whether it was family, running, or forgiveness.

How Louis Zamperini’s Brother Helped Him Suceed

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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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