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"Unbroken" book stops pity party

December 16, 2010 - Burt Angeli
Threw a “pity party” for myself last week. Yours truly and D. Roy made it to Las Vegas but that was one of the few vacation highlights after three months of covering high school sports. First off, no complaints with flying AirTran out of Milwaukee. Although I could have done without the woman who chattered the entire trip. Sitting right behind me, she once told her friend, “Would you believe somebody once told me to ‘shut the (bleep) up?’” Yes, I do. With arrival late Saturday night, yours truly stopped Sunday morning at Christ The King Catholic Community Church. Father Manny, celebrating his 40th anniversary in the priesthood, asked all visitors to stand up and identify themselves. When I announced Michigan, Father Manny asked if I liked Michigan State. I could have been a smart-aleck and responded with “depends on the sport,” but I simply said yes. “I like Penn State,” said Father Manny, who watched the Spartans hold off Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions on Saturday. Things started off great dining-wise, slurping down a bowl of war won ton soup at South Point. You can’t beat a bowl of soup with shrimp, beef, pork, corn, broccoli and won tons. From that point on, I crunched Pepto-Bismol tablets and failed to cash on any bets.  My illness prevented a visit to the Golden Nugget sports book, one of the premier establishments in downtown Las Vegas; limited a stop at the History channel’s “Pawn Stars” site (no sign of the stars but plenty of Chumlee merchandise), and failed to walk the new Tillman Bridge connecting Nevada and Arizona. My "woe is me" came to halt after reading Laura Hillenbrand's gripping "Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption." How could I complain about a crummy vacation when Louis Zamperini spent years of torture in a Japanese POW camp? Zamperini, after a wild childhood, developed into an Olympic distance runner. He was among the world's best, with one coach telling him in 1938,  "The only runner who could beat him was Seabiscuit." It just so happens that Laura Hillenbrand also wrote "Seabiscuit," another great read about a race horse. Zamperini left track to become an airman, joining the World War II fight against the Japanese in the Pacific. Those were harrowing times for all, with the air war still a question mark with the quality of planes and personnel. "Only the laundry knew I how scared I was," remarked one member of a B-24 crew. Zamperini's nightmare started with a crash at sea, given up for dead after floating on a raft for many days and then trips to prison camps. If that wasn't bad enough, one POW camp boss, named "The Bird," made it a point — at two camps — to punish Zamperini. Zamperini made it out, but his story doesn't end there. His return to the U.S. was marked by alcoholism. Only after hearing evangelist Billy Graham did Zamperini straighten his life out, including a journey back to Japan where he went to forgive "The Bird." Hillenbrand, who wrote "Seabiscuit" about 10 years ago, has turned out another prize piece of literature with "Unbroken." It was indeed hard to feel sorry for myself, but I sure wish that gal on the plane would have shut the heck up.



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