After last week’s bombardment of harrowing and heart-breaking news events, some of which hit way too close to home, I felt swept away, and forever changed by the heart-warming, life-affirming evening I spent on Saturday night at the annual USO Gala, chaired by non-other than my mom and her husband Jim.
The theme of the patriotic night was “Freedom Unbroken For Generations,” with the Keynote Speaker being Louis Zamperini, hero of Laura Hillenbrand’s book, Unbroken. Knowing that he was going to be speaking at the event, I started reading the biography of this Olympic runner turned World War II POW a few weeks ago, and was in awe of his death-defying life’s events. Needless to say, I was eager to see and hear the man behind the incredible Unbroken story.
During the dinner portion of the evening last Saturday, a 20 minute documentary film about Zamperini’s life story played on the big screens, with oohs, aahs, and lots of No way!s,especially from the guests who had never heard his story. At the end of the short film, the room was in tears and then quickly onto their feet when the 96 year old Zamperini walked onto the stage.
It’s hard to breathe when a hero like that is in your midst.
I felt patriotism pulsing through me like never before. I felt honored to be in the presence of someone who has witnessed so much in his lifetime and was willing to share it with the rest of the world. I felt like I was right where I needed to be.
The intense darkness and suffering that this man has endured in his life is beyond measure, with spending 40+ days on a raft in the middle of the ocean and then living through life as a Prisoner of War in Japan during WWII, so listening to him speak of love, light and forgiveness was a lesson that I will never forget.
He sat in a chair as he spoke, sharp as a tack and as eloquent as a politician. He had the room hanging on every last word, with laughter and tears and hearts full of admiration.
My favorite quote from the night was when he was asked what his secret to life is. His reply:
“To have a cheerful attitude, a cheerful countenance, at all times.”
Coming from someone who has been to the darkest places a human can go and has seen the ugliest forms of brutality and evil imaginable, this piece of advice really stuck with me. Life’s too short, or in his case, pretty damn long, to have anything but cheer and good will in your heart.
If you haven’t already, be sure to read Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken. Though I am not a huge fan of her writing, the story, Louis’ story, is one you should not miss. And be on the lookout for the movie to be in theaters in the next few years.