Peachtree Presbyterian Church Senior Pastor Vic Pentz said he thought it was a longshot in his mind to have Zamperini as a guest at the Buckhead church.However, he agreed to fly from Torrance, California to Atlanta, and to come to the church Sunday for two services to share his experience and to show a video of his life.
“Louis’ mere presence in the room is going to be an inspiration and uplifting for the entire gathering,” Pentz said. “He will be with us on the day after his 96th birthday, so he is flying all the way from Los Angeles to Atlanta on his birthday to be with us in the morning. That just speaks volumes about his passion for his story that he has to tell.”
Chronicled in Laura Hillenbrand’s biographical novel of Zamperini, “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption,” is his full story of abuse and endurance.
“The book in many ways is difficult to read because of the relentless stress and disaster that befalls Louis throughout the book,” Pentz said. “He goes from being a gunner in the war and ending up crashing and losing friends, then being on a raft, … experiencing Japanese concentration camps.”
Zamperini’s nightmare continued after he returned home from the war, and he turned to alcoholism to cope. Eventually, his wife asked if he would go see Billy Graham to speak, and he ended up finding God.
Zamperini was not available for a phone interview. While speaking at the Buckhead Church in 2011, he read a letter he wrote to Imperial Japanese Army sergeant Mutsuhiro Watanabe, forgiving him and saying he should become a Christian, too.
“Under your discipline, my rights were stripped from me. It was a struggle to maintain enough dignity and hope to live until the war’s end,” Zamperini said. “The post war nightmares caused my life to crumble but thanks to a confrontation with God through 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.’”
The heroic story is now in script form at Universal Studios, and Angelina Jolie has been tabbed to direct the film, which is set for release in 2015.
If you go:
o What: The Amazing Story of Louis Zamperini, lecture and video
o Where: Peachtree Presbyterian Church, 3232 Roswell Road, Buckhead
o When: Sunday at 9 and 11 a.m.
o Information: www.peachtreepres.org