President Biden to attend first-ever virtual National Prayer Breakfast - We Are The Mighty
Mighty Moments

President Biden to attend first-ever virtual National Prayer Breakfast

The National Prayer Breakfast has been an event attended by American presidents since its inception. February 4, 2021 it will be conducted virtually for the first time in its 68 year history. 

The origin of the National Prayer Breakfast actually began in the 1930s. Abraham Vereide organized prayer groups throughout the Seattle area. Later on he moved to Washington D.C. and began creating similar events within Congress. At the invitation of one of the Congressional members and Billy Graham, President Dwight Eisenhower attended the first “official” National Prayer Breakfast in 1953. 

Although it was called the President’s Prayer Breakfast until 1970, it began a long and rich tradition.

American presidents have been sitting down in faith and prayer ever since. It has often been the first speech made by the newly inaugurated president, since the current president is always one of the speakers at the event. Hosted by members of Congress and The Fellowship Foundation, it has grown and changed over the years.

Guests from over 100 countries attend the gathering which used to host around 400 and now boasts as many as 4,000. Although originally attended by those practicing the Christian faith, it has involved being inclusive of all. Jewish, Muslim and Buddhists could all be sitting at the same table. Cities and countries all over the world have also been modeling and having their own National Prayer Breakfast events, with many military bases joining in too.  

The National Prayer Breakfast is a military tradition as well.
Personnel pray during the National Prayer Breakfast, at Dover Air Force Base, Del., on Jan. 19, 2005. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Dee Marvin) (Released)

Although religious in its very nature, at the heart of the Prayer Breakfast lies the deep hope for the future of man and goodwill to all.

Some of the more notable prayers and moments from previous National Prayer Breakfasts of the past below demonstrate that spirit. As history has shown us, we aren’t the first generation to experience such loss and hardship.

Biden kneeling at a chapel in September, 2011, will attend the National Prayer Breakfast virtually.
In September 2011, Vice President Joe Biden kneels in the chapel of Our Lady of Siluva at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception following a memorial Mass for Vatican diplomat Archbishop Pietro Sambi in Washington. (CNS/Leslie E. Kossoff)

As we approach the next National Prayer Breakfast with President Biden at the helm, the country does so with heavy but hopeful hearts. Below are some of the more notable remarks and prayers from past presidents.

Dwight Eisenhower, 1953

“As Benjamin Franklin said at one time during the course of the stormy consultation at the Constitutional Convention, because he sensed that the convention was on the point of breaking up: ‘Gentlemen, I suggest that we have a word of prayer.’ And strangely enough, after a bit of prayer the problems began to smooth out and the convention moved to the great triumph that we enjoy today–the writing of our Constitution.”

John F. Kennedy, 1963

“These breakfasts are dedicated to prayer and all of us believe in and need prayer. Of all the thousands of letters that are received in the office of the President of the United States, letters of good will and wishes, none, I am sure, have moved any of the incumbents half so much as those that write that those of us who work here in behalf of the country are remembered in their prayers….This morning we pray together; this evening apart. But each morning and each evening, let us remember the advice of my fellow Bostonian, the Reverend Phillips Brooks: ‘Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men! Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks.'”

Lyndon Johnson, 1964

“No man could live in the house where I live now or work at the desk where I work now without needing and without seeking the strength and the support of earnest and frequent prayer. Since last we met, it has fallen to me to learn personally the truth Thomas Jefferson spoke so long ago, when he said: ‘The second office of the Government is honorable and easy; The first is but a splendid misery.’ In these last 70 days, prayer has helped me to bear the burdens of this first office which are too great to be borne by anyone alone.”

Gerald Ford, 1975

“Since we last met, I have discovered another aspect of the power of prayer: I have learned how important it is to have people pray for me. It is often said that the presidency is the loneliest job in the world. Yes, and in a certain sense, I suppose it is. Yet, in all honesty, I cannot say that I have suffered from loneliness these past six months. The reason, I am certain, has been that everywhere I go, among old friends or among strangers, people call out from the crowd or will say quietly to me, ‘We’re praying for you,’ or ‘You are in our prayers,’ and I read the same sentiments in my mail. Of course, there are some that are not so inspiring, but the great ground swell of good will that comes from the true spirit of America has been a wonderful source of strength to me as it was, I am sure, to other Presidents before me.”

Jimmy Carter, 1980

“But this is what I would like to leave with you. To set a time in each day to list all of the things that you consider to be most difficult, most embarrassing, the worst challenge to your own happiness, and not only ask God to alleviate it but preferably thank God for it. It might sound strange, but I guarantee you it works. And you might say, ‘Why in the world should I ask God for thanks — give thanks, for something that seems to me so bad or so damaging?’ Well, growth in a person’s life, growth for a nation, growth spiritually, all depend on our relationship with God. And the basis for that growth is an understanding of God’s purpose, and a sharing of difficult responsibilities with God through prayer.”

Ronald Reagan, 1984

“We all in this room, I know, and we know many millions more everywhere, turn to God in prayer, believe in the power and the spirit of prayer. And yet so often, we direct our prayers to those problems that are immediate to us, knowing that He has promised His help to us when we turn to Him. And yet in a world today that is so torn with strife where the divisions seem to be increasing, not people coming together, within countries, divisions within the people, themselves and all, I wonder if we have ever thought about the greatest tool that we have — that power of prayer and God’s help.”

George H.W. Bush, 1989

“We’re facing some serious opportunities and some great opportunities in our country — tough problems and great opportunities. And I believe that a wonderful resource in dealing with them is prayer — not just prayer for what we want but prayer for what is in the heart of God for us individually and as a nation. And shouldn’t we also remember, with all that we have to be grateful for, to pause each day to offer a prayer of thanksgiving. All of us should not attempt to fulfill the responsibilities we now have without prayer and a strong faith in God. Abraham Lincoln said: ‘I’ve been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I have nowhere else to go.’ Surely he was not the first President, certainly not the last, to realize that.”

Bill Clinton, 1999

“You do not make peace with your friends, but friendship can come with time and trust and humility when we do not pretend that our willfulness is an expression of God’s will. I do not know how to put this into words. A friend of mine last week sent me a little story out of Mother Teresa’s life, when she said she was asked, ‘When you pray, what do you say to God?’ And she said, ‘I don’t say anything. I listen.’ And then she was asked, ‘Well when you listen, what does God say to you?’ And she said, ‘He doesn’t say anything, either. He listens.’ In another way, St. Paul said the same thing: ‘We do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit, Himself, intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.’ So I ask you to reflect on all we have seen and heard and felt today. I ask you to pray for peace, for the peacemakers, and for peace within each of our hearts — in silence.”

George W. Bush, 2001

“Every president since the first one I can remember, Dwight Eisenhower, has taken part in this great tradition. It’s a privilege for me to speak where they have spoken and to pray where they have prayed. All presidents of the United States have come to the National Prayer Breakfast, regardless of their religious views. No matter what our background, in prayer we share something universal, a desire to speak and listen to our Maker and to know His plan for our lives….I believe in the power of prayer. It’s been said, ‘I would rather stand against the cannons of the wicked than against the prayers of the righteous.’ The prayers of a friend are one of life’s most gracious gifts.”

Barack Obama, 2016

“…And should that faith waver, should I lose my way, I have drawn strength not only from a remarkable wife, not only from incredible colleagues and friends, but I have drawn strength from witnessing all across this country and all around this world, good people, of all faiths, who do the Lord’s work each and every day. Who wield that power and love, and sound mind to feed the hungry and heal the sick, to teach our children and welcome the stranger. Think about the extraordinary work of the congregations and faith communities represented here today.  Whether fighting global poverty or working to end the scourge of human trafficking, you are the leaders of what Pope Francis calls ‘this march of living hope’.”

Mighty Moments

Watch this Marine get pinned by his 3-year-old son

Being promoted within the US military’s noncommissioned officer rank is a special occasion in a service member’s career, after which they are entrusted by their commanders to lead junior enlisted service members and are assigned more responsibilities.


One Marine marked the special occasion with what appeared to be his 3-year-old son.

Also read: 80 famous military brats

In a video posted online last year, a newly minted Marine sergeant marches to the front of a formation for his promotion ceremony, standing at attention as a senior Marine reads out a commander’s order outlining his new responsibilities.

“As a sergeant of Marines, you must set the example for others to emulate,” the senior Marine says. “You are responsible for the accomplishment of your assigned mission, and for the safety, professional development, and well-being of the Marines of your charge.”

After the order was read out, a child approaches the formation and says, quietly, “good afternoon, gentlemen,” before the promoted Marine kneels so the child can remove his chevrons and pin on the emblems of his new rank.

The two share an embrace before the son scurries away.

Watch the clip:

 

Articles

British Reaper drone halts ISIS execution

A Royal Air Force Reaper MQ9A remote piloted aircraft interrupted a planned public execution that Islamic State of Iraq and Syria attempted to carry out earlier this month, giving the would-be victims of the terrorist group a chance to escape.


President Biden to attend first-ever virtual National Prayer Breakfast
An MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft performs aerial maneuvers over Creech Air Force Base, Nev., June 25, 2015. The MQ-9 Reaper is an armed, multi-mission, medium-altitude, long-endurance remotely piloted aircraft that is employed primarily as an intelligence-collection asset and secondarily against dynamic execution targets. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Cory D. Payne/Not Reviewed)

According to a May 19, 2017 British Ministry of Defence release, the Reaper was over the Syrian village of Abu Kamal on May 9 when it noticed ISIS fighters gathering civilians in the village. When the crew saw that the ISIS fighters were removing two prisoners from a van, they chose to act.

Unable to directly target the would-be executioners due to the British rules of engagement that require the minimization of civilian casualties, the Reaper crew instead fired a single AGM-114 Hellfire missile at the roof of a building where two other ISIS terrorists were acting as sentries. The missile killed one of the tangos outright, and sent both the crowd of civilians and ISIS scrambling for cover.

The ultimate fate of the would-be victims is not known.

President Biden to attend first-ever virtual National Prayer Breakfast
A line of ISIS soldiers.

AmericanMilitaryNews.com reports that such executions are becoming more common as ISIS loses ground to Iraqi and Kurdish forces. ISIS was known for a series of beheading videos released since 2014, including one earlier this month of an alleged spy for Russia. A British subject, Mohammed Emwazi, also known as “Jihadi John” was one of the more notorious executioners until he was killed by a strike carried out by American and British UAVs.

According to the RAF’s web site, the British Reaper MQ9A, which is assigned to XIII Squadron, 39 Squadron, and 54 Squadron, is usually armed with four AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and two GBU-12 laser-guided bombs. The MQ-9 is also used by the United States Air Force, the Italian Air Force, Royal Netherlands Air Force, French Air Force, and United States Customs and Border Protection.

Mighty Moments

Everyone should see these powerful images of wounded vets

Professional photographer David Jay knows a picture is worth a thousand words, so he applied it to wounded vets.


To comprehend the news he would hear about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Jay visited Walter Reed Hospital to meet with wounded veterans. The visit had such a profound effect on him that he spent 3 years photographing wounded servicemen and women capturing an unadulterated look at their traumatic wounds for his series “Unknown Soldier.”

“We hear about ‘this number of men were killed’ and ‘this many were injured,'” Jay said in a recent interview with NPR. “And we think of them — maybe they got shot — or we don’t really picture what these injured men look like.”

The images are so visually powerful they have been acquired by the Library of Congress to be used as part its Iraq and Afghanistan wars visual documentation.

“You can imagine how many times each of these men and women have heard a parent tell their child, ‘Don’t look. Don’t stare at him. That’s rude.’ I take these pictures so that we can look; we can see what we’re not supposed to see. And we need to see them because we created them.”

Jay gave WATM permission to use some of his photos below, but you can see his full gallery here.

Army Staff Sgt. Robert Henline. Bobby’s transport was incinerated by a roadside bomb in Iraq. He was the lone survivor.

 

President Biden to attend first-ever virtual National Prayer Breakfast

Army Spc. Jerral Hancock. Jerral was driving a tank in Iraq. A roadside bomb pierced the armor, breaching the interior. It is believed that Jerral was trapped under the wreckage for half an hour.

President Biden to attend first-ever virtual National Prayer Breakfast

President Biden to attend first-ever virtual National Prayer Breakfast

Robert was hit by incoming artillery, sustaining burns over 60% of his body

President Biden to attend first-ever virtual National Prayer Breakfast

Maj. Matt Smith, US Army. On June 8, 2013 in Paktika Province, Afghanistan, Matt was shot along with five others by a member of the Afghan National Army. The bullet severed his femoral artery, resulting in the amputation of his leg.

President Biden to attend first-ever virtual National Prayer Breakfast

Marine Cpl. Michael Fox. On November 15, 2011 Michael was on foot patrol in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan when he was injured by an improvised explosive device.

President Biden to attend first-ever virtual National Prayer Breakfast

1st Lt. Nicholas John Vogt, U.S. Army. On November 12, 2011, he was severely injured by an IED while on a foot-patrol in Panjwaii, Afghanistan.

“The only thing that I want to pass on is this: Losing limbs is like losing a good friend,” Vogt said. “We wish we could still be with them, but it wasn’t ‘in the cards’. Then we get up, remember the good times, and thank God for whatever we have left.”

President Biden to attend first-ever virtual National Prayer Breakfast

President Biden to attend first-ever virtual National Prayer Breakfast

Cpl. Christian Brown, USMC

On Dec. 13, 2011, Christian was leading his squad on foot patrol in Helmand Province, Afghanistan when he stepped on an improvised explosive device. Both of his legs were blown off- one above the knee, the other below the hip. Just four days prior, under heavy enemy fire, Christian had carried a mortally wounded Marine almost 1,000 feet to a hovering helicopter — an act of bravery for which he was awarded the Silver Star.

President Biden to attend first-ever virtual National Prayer Breakfast

Spc. Marissa Strock. She was injured when her vehicle was struck by an IED buried in the road. She was 20 years old.

President Biden to attend first-ever virtual National Prayer Breakfast

Staff Sgt. Shilo Harris. Shilo was severely burned on February 19th, 2007 by a roadside bomb estimated at 700 lbs. He lost three men out of a crew of five. Only Shilo and his driver survived the blast.

President Biden to attend first-ever virtual National Prayer Breakfast

To view the entire Unknown Soldier collection by David Jay, visit his website here.

NOW: Here’s What An Army Medic Does In The Critical Minutes After A Soldier Is Wounded 

OR: This veteran artist has some inspiring words for wounded warriors 

Mighty Moments

This homeless veteran and good samaritan just bought a home

A homeless man who used his last $20 to fill up the gas tank of a stranded motorist in Philadelphia has bought a home with some of the nearly $400,000 raised for him by the woman he saved.


Johnny Bobbitt Jr. says on his GoFundMe page that he bought a home over the weekend.

Related: This storied American brand is helping vets get into their homes — literally

Kate McClure, of Florence Township, New Jersey, ran out of gas on an Interstate 95 exit ramp late one night. Bobbitt walked a few blocks to buy her gas. She didn’t have money to repay the Marine veteran, so she created the online fundraiser page as a thank you. The fundraiser has raised more than $397,000.

Bobbitt says he’s donating some of his money to a grade school student who is helping another homeless veteran.

Watch Johnny find out that Kate raised a little over $700 in two days:

(Kate McClure | YouTube)
Intel

This man honors the military by playing ‘Taps’ for his neighbors every day

Every time Don Brittain plays “Taps” at sunset his neighbors stand at attention.


One resident told CBSN, “When you hear the first note, everything in our house comes to a complete halt.”

Tacoma residents have made it part of their daily ritual. For Brittain, it’s his way of showing appreciation for our military.

“I want to support our guys who are over there fighting,” Brittain told CBSN. “I had polio as a kid, so I couldn’t serve. I would have served in a heartbeat.”

Watch Brittain move his neighbors with his beautiful rendition of “Taps”:

NOW: This American comedy legend defused land mines in World WAR II

OR: 94-year-old who served behind Nazi lines reveals the most terrifying thing he experienced

Articles

These are the boats you didn’t know the Army had

The Army is known for its ability to fight on land, and most people know it has plenty of helicopters. But the Army also has an impressive fleet of watercraft that it uses for transportation, engineering, and even special operations platforms. Here are the watercraft that hardly anyone knows the Army has.


1. The landing craft that can be a floating base for special operators

President Biden to attend first-ever virtual National Prayer Breakfast
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/RadioFan

Most people know landing crafts from World War II movies where ramps dropped, and soldiers rushed out and onto the beaches. Landing craft are still largely the same, with advances in technology allowing for larger, more resilient ships. The Army currently fields 34 Landing Craft, Utility 2000s.

The LCU works by pulling close to a shore, dock, or pier and dropping a ramp to form a bridge for vehicles. Supplies are then carried off by forklift while transported vehicles can roll off under their own power. The LCU-2000 can carry up to 350 tons into water as shallow as 9 feet, meaning it can drop 5 Abrams tanks directly onto a beach.

The LCU-2000s have been historically used as transportation platforms for supplies and armored vehicles, but they also saw service with special operators in Haiti and Operation Iraqi Freedom. In Haiti, the ships were used to transport operators to different fights while avoiding the heavily defended road network. In Iraq, they were used as floating staging bases for operators assaulting offshore oil platforms.

2. The landing craft that can assault beaches, fight fires, and act as a command center

President Biden to attend first-ever virtual National Prayer Breakfast
Photo: US Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class John Stratton

The Landing Craft, Mechanized 8 is primarily a supply transport ship like the LCU-2000. It is smaller and carries only 53 tons, meaning it can’t lift a single heavy tank. It can carry smaller vehicles though and can operate in waters as shallow as 5 ft.

It is highly customizable though, and it’s used for a variety of purposes. Its shallow draft allows it to operate inland, far away from deep water. It can be fitted with firefighting equipment, diver support equipment, or communications relays. It especially shines in disaster relief since it can deliver to an unimproved beach or damaged dock as much cargo as a C-17 can carry.

The Army has 40 LCM-8s, but it’s looking to replace them. The Maneuver Support Vessel (Light) program calls for a new ship with capabilities above and beyond the LCM-8. It would carry more cargo, be more survivable under attack, and have both fore and aft ramps so vehicles could drive on and off faster.

3. Logistics support vessels that can deploy 24 combat-ready tanks

President Biden to attend first-ever virtual National Prayer Breakfast
Photo: US Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Elisandro T. Diaz

Though the Army has only eight Logistics Support Vessels, they are heavy lifters. The LSV is capable of carrying 2,000 tons from deepwater boats to shore. Though it needs 12 feet of water to float, it has a longer ramp that allows it to reach the shore on beaches the LCM-8 and LCU-2000 can’t reach.

Its larger deck surface and greater capacity means it can carry 24 M1 tanks directly to a beach and the tanks can roll off, ready to fight. That’s almost enough space to carry an entire armored cavalry troop in one lift.

4. Dredges and cranes for re-shaping the coast

President Biden to attend first-ever virtual National Prayer Breakfast
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Mike Baird

Army engineers are in charge of U.S. dredging operations. That’s the removal of silt from the ocean floor to lay communications cable, open clogged shipping lanes, or deepen waterways for larger ships. To accomplish this mission, they maintain 11 dredging vessels that remove silt and sand and dump it out to sea or in pre-planned sites.

The engineers also keep a small fleet of floating cranes used to assist with dredging, repair or build ports, and move supplies onto and off of ships.

5. Tugs that can pull aircraft carriers

President Biden to attend first-ever virtual National Prayer Breakfast
Photo: US Army Sgt. Edwin Rodriguez

Army tugs are used primarily to maneuver friendly ships in tricky ports or waterways just like civilian tugs. They are also useful for repositioning cranes and moving floating piers or barges into position.

The Army’s tugs are surprisingly capable. The largest six Army tugs are in the Nathaniel Greene class, and each can pull an aircraft carrier in a pinch. There are 24 tugs total in the Army inventory.

NOW: D-Day: The story behind the largest amphibious assault in history

OR: The 4 biggest myths US Marines keep telling themselves

Articles

13 lessons you learn while traveling in the US military

Military travel: it’s like civilian travel with more red tape. Here are 13 things every constant military traveler knows.


1. The Defense Travel System is arguably the most frustrating thing ever made.

President Biden to attend first-ever virtual National Prayer Breakfast

2. The overly moto guys will wear civilian clothes but completely fail to hide that they’re in the military.

3. Your military ID and TSA Precheck can make security a breeze.

4. Getting your gear through security can be more challenging, so you learn to make friends with security.

5. Government rate hotels are not always the nicest.

6. Someone will get lost but swear he isn’t. This is especially annoying when he outranks you.

7. Someone in your group can’t handle foreign food.

8. Take a minute to get to know the staff duty driver every night, just in case.

9. You will run into someone from an old unit. You probably will not be excited about it.

10. The DoD is paying for the rental car and mileage, so find somewhere to go every day off.

11. No matter how many phone numbers, email addresses, and instant messaging usernames you exchange, someone will be impossible to keep track of for accountability. It’s probably a senior officer.

12. Every base exchange is filled with tackier, more expensive versions of local stuff you can buy off post.

13. Despite all the frustrations, you will want to leave again 15 minutes after you return to your home base.

President Biden to attend first-ever virtual National Prayer Breakfast

Articles

This is why cancer isn’t the toughest fight John McCain has faced

The announcement that Senator John McCain (R-AZ) is fighting brain cancer was stunning. The news was flooded with statements, most of which offered thoughts and prayers for McCain and his family, although many also noted that John McCain was a fighter.


However, this has not been the only time John McCain’s had to fight through a situation.

His lengthy time in captivity during the Vietnam War was notable, not only due to the fact he was awarded the Silver Star for his heroism, but also for his refusal to return home early.

McCain served as a chaplain among the POWs, per his Legion of Merit citation. McCain also cheated death when his plane was shot down on Oct. 26, 1967.

President Biden to attend first-ever virtual National Prayer Breakfast
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Prior to his Vietnam War service, he survived three mishaps, including a collision with power lines in an A-1 Skyraider. McCain had another close brush with death before his shootdown, when his jet was among those caught up in the massive fire on the carrier USS Forrestal (CV 59).

Despite suffering shrapnel wounds, he volunteered to transfer to the Essex-class carrier USS Oriskany (CV 34).

President Biden to attend first-ever virtual National Prayer Breakfast
YouTube: We Are The Mighty

The cancer Senator McCain is fighting, a brain tumor known as glioblastoma, is a very aggressive form of cancer that was discovered after an operation to remove a blood clot near his eye.

It’s not his first go-round with “the big C,” either. McCain fought a battle with malignant melanoma in 2000.

President Biden to attend first-ever virtual National Prayer Breakfast
McCain in Vietnam (Library of Congress photo)

As of this writing, Senator McCain is considering treatment options, but he is also still at work. When President Trump canceled a program to arm some Syrian rebels, McCain issued a statement condemning the decision, proving once again that you can’t keep a hero down.

Intel

Recon Marines honor fallen brothers with a grueling 30-mile ruck run

Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for troops who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in defense of the United States.


On this day, Americans may be posting tributes on social media or attending events to honor the fallen. For a group of Recon Marines however, their way of honoring fallen brothers is with an intense, grueling challenge over nearly 30 miles.

“I’ll run for him until I retire,” says Master Gunnery Sgt. Christopher May of his comrade Staff Sgt. Caleb Medley, in a new video produced by the Marine Corps. Medley died in Feb. 2013 in a parachuting accident while training in California, according to The Marine Times.

Watch the video below:

SEE ALSO: 12 rare and amazing photos from the ‘War to End All Wars’

Intel

This US Army general was rescued from Vietnam as a young boy

Brig. Gen. Viet X. Luong, who now oversees the training of Afghan forces, was only 9 when his father, a major in the South Vietnamese Marines, told the family that Saigon would soon fall to the North Vietnamese and they must escape.


A reporter friend was able to get them papers to evacuate through Tân Sơn Nhứt Airport.

Arriving just as it came under artillery and rocket bombardment, Luong recalls laying on the ground, listening to the groans of the wounded and praying for salvation. U.S. Marines flew the family to the USS Hancock where, as Saigon fell, Luong decided to join the U.S. military.

Hear the full story at NPR 

OR: These are a former NATO Supreme Allied Commander’s favorite books

Articles

Louie Zamperini: The Man Who Was Unbroken

President Biden to attend first-ever virtual National Prayer Breakfast


Seven years ago, Louie Zamperini had just concluded a presentation on a cruise ship when a man in his 60s raised his hand and said, “Mr. Zamperini, I was in your camp in 1957. And several years later, I remember what you had taught me and told me. I came to my own decision to come to the Lord, and my life has been turned around.”

Zamperini’s son, Luke, pauses as he shares the cruise-ship anecdote about Victory Boys Camp, which his late father established for troubled inner-city youths in 1952. “Then another man gets up and says, ‘Mr. Zamperini, I was in your camp in 1961.’ … We saw my father’s redemption and resilience all the time.”

For 60 years, the elder Zamperini shared his inspiring story with church groups, community organizations, and those he would meet and befriend instantly. There was even a Sunday school comic book about him: “The True Story of Capt. Louis Zamperini,” adapted from the 1956 book “Devil at my Heels,” co-authored by Zamperini and Helen Itris.

“Back in the 1950s, we couldn’t go anywhere without him being approached by somebody who knew his story and wanted to talk to him,” Luke remembers. “He was very popular back then. It got a little resurgence when CBS Sports featured him in the 1998 Nagano Olympics. That kind of re-established interest in him. And, of course, when Laura Hillenbrand discovered his story, that brought us to the state we’re in today.”

On Christmas Day, the story of Zamperini’s life – troubled youth, high school track star, Olympic runner, prisoner of war – debuts in movie theaters across the United States. Directed by Oscar-winning actress Angelina Jolie, the film is based on Hillenbrand’s best-selling book “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.”

For years, Zamperini fought to come to grips with his World War II experience. Surviving the crash of his bomber, the Green Hornet. Floating through shark-infested waters for 47 days. Nearly three years of torture at a Japanese prison camp.

With the end of the war and his release came a euphoria, followed by anger, depression, nightmares and alcoholism. For Zamperini, time did not not heal his wounds.

“He was still deeply troubled,” says his daughter, Cynthia Garris. “They didn’t know what (post-traumatic stress disorder) was; there wasn’t a clinical name for it back then.”

“I had a bit of a rough beginning,” she continues. “While I was still an infant, he went through his conversion under Billy Graham. And I can attest to the fact that he didn’t drink or have these nightmares as far back as I can remember.”

Sparked by his initial meeting with Graham, Zamperini’s transformation continued when he returned to Japan in the early ’50s to speak to 850 prisoners held for war crimes. He forgave and hugged his captors, including those who had tortured him. Though Zamperini wanted to meet and forgive Mutsuhiro Watanabe – “The Bird” – in person, the notoriously abusive POW camp officer declined.

Seemingly overnight, Zamperini emerged from his darkness to shine a light wherever he went. Once he forgave his captors, he said, he never again had a nightmare.

A NEW OUTLOOK

Reinvigorated and full of love, Zamperini turned his attention to raising his kids, teaching them life lessons and playing practical jokes. He was the parent who soothed the sore throats, mended the broken toys and tended to the pets – even rats.

“To me, the rats were wonderful,” Luke says, laughing. “To him, they were disgusting. I mistakenly left their cage outside one night, and in the morning, they appeared to be dead. I was heartbroken. He nursed them back to health, staying up all night and feeding them honey and sugar water. The next morning, here was this exhausted father with these rats seemingly returned from the dead. No one asked him to do that. He just knew it would make me happy.”

Zamperini would unleash his sense of humor anytime, anywhere. “One time, Mom, Luke and I were watching TV in the evening,” Cynthia recalls. “Often Dad would go downstairs to his workshop, so we didn’t think it was unusual. All of a sudden he came streaking through the TV room, and he was dressed like a sumo wrestler, with a Japanese cloth around his loins, running through the room, just to make us laugh. He had a wonderful sense of humor.”

Zamperini would engage anyone; he was always happy to hear someone’s story and, of course, to share his own.

“He would be out watering his plants in the front yard, and some jogger would be jogging by,” Luke says. “He would turn around and say, ‘Hey, I’ll race you to that mailbox up there.’ Of course, he was pretty slow in his later years. So when the other person would reach the mailbox first, he would say, ‘Well, now you can say that you beat an Olympian.’ That would usually make them stop, turn around and come back to talk. It’s just the way he would make friends.”

Zamperini stayed active, though he had to give up jogging at 87 and skiing at 91 when he cracked his clavicle.

“I’d look up and he’d be gone,” Cynthia says of their skiing trips, one of which was a perfect example of Zamperini’s outgoing nature. “Some pretty girl had fallen on the other side of the slope, and he had made a beeline over there to give her lessons on how to ski. And this is when he was in his late 80s or 90s. He just made friends wherever he went.”

“ALWAYS LAUGHING”

While researching for her 2001 book “Seabiscuit: An American Legend,” Hillenbrand learned of Zamperini’s high school athletic exploits – how he’d set a world interscholastic record by running a 4:21 mile. Once she learned about his war experience, she says she “knew this was my next book.”

She began meeting with him. “He was always laughing, always happy, always upbeat,” says Hillenbrand, who spoke with Zamperini almost daily during the seven-year process of researching and writing “Unbroken.”

“He loved being alive. He told these stories of the most harrowing experiences and did so in an almost singsong voice because he had let it all go … the pain of it was gone for him. That was inspiring. I had never met anyone who had suffered as Louie had who could maintain an outlook … that everything is a gift. He was a wonderfully happy man.”

His sense of humor surfaced when Hillenbrand least expected it. “I called him one day and told him how far deep his plane was in the ocean,” she says. “And he responded very quickly, ‘Well, I should go down and get it.’ I just loved that. We’re talking about a plane crash that put him in these dire circumstances for years. But he could joke about it.”

Zamperini’s story is full of tragic moments, such as his captivity on the island of Kwajalein, where he contracted dengue fever and was the subject of medical experiments. “His voice became solemn when he spoke about that,” Hillenbrand says. “He would make little noises one makes when there is something hard to say. He was struggling to push through it.”

While Zamperini was able to talk about the abuses he suffered, one episode proved especially challenging to recount. “The thing he said was the most painful memory of all the war was the killing of Gaga the Duck,” Hillenbrand says. “It was sort of a pet of the prisoners of war. He said it was the worst thing – the innocence of that animal and what was done to him.”

“FULL OF LOVE”

Jack O’Connell, who plays Zamperini in the movie, met him several times before and after filming. O’Connell was most impressed with Zamperini’s decision to forgive those who had done him great harm. “The solace you gain from forgiveness eventually helps take you to a better place,” he says.

That’s what enabled Zamperini to emerge from the darkness of his postwar years and embrace life. “You would never know the torment he went through,” Cynthia says. “Many men have gone through wars like that. They are bitter and not very talkative. They can be angry. He was such a happy-go-lucky man. Just full of love, full of life.”

When making public appearances or going out to eat, Zamperini always wore his “uniform” – beige pants with the belt he wore all the way through the war, blue Olympic windbreaker and University of Southern California cap. He had a half-dozen USC caps and was rarely photographed in his last years without one. “I have one sitting on an easy chair where he liked to sit,” his daughter says. “It looks like Dad’s here.”

Zamperini died July 2 at 97.

Initially, Luke was disappointed that his father didn’t live long enough to see the completed film of “Unbroken.” But Jolie told him, “Oh, yes he did. I took my laptop to the hospital, sat on his bed with him, and we watched it.”

Thanks to the “Unbroken” book and film, Zamperini’s legacy will endure, educating millions more on his story of courage, redemption, struggle, forgiveness and faith.

The Victory Boys Club lives on, too. The family had planned to disband the camp since it’s not at a set location anymore. But earlier this year, Zamperini reached out and shared his story one last time to a troubled 20-year-old man addicted to heroin.

“We took him to see Louie, and Louie was able to finance this guy getting to a mission group in Australia that would accept him in his state and try to help him,” Luke says. “It turned this guy around. He spoke at both the private and public memorials we had for my dad. We realized we were able to help this one guy with Victory Boys Camp, so we wanted to keep this charity going to benefit the lives of young people.”

The author of this story, Henry Howard, is deputy director of magazine operations for The American Legion.

Intel

Here’s what Gen. Eisenhower told his troops before the largest amphibious assault in history

On June 5, 1944, 150,000 troops were massed in Southern England waiting to begin the world’s largest amphibious assault.


The success of D-Day would open a new Allied front against Nazi Germany, leading to the downfall of Hitler and the Third Reich. On the eve of the assault, Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower sent the following statement to all troops taking part in the operation. To hear a recording of Eisenhower reading the statement to the troops, check out the video below the letter.

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Photo: The National Archives

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