Guest editorial: Never forget: Unbroken, a memoir
November 7, 2014
This editorial is written in memory of Louis Zamperini, my grandpa, and the prisoners of war of World War II. For lasting peace in this world to ever be possible, we must never forget the sacrifices of the living and the dead.
Over the summer I was lounging in my hotel in Rome, unable to pull myself from the pages of a story. The book was "Unbroken," a haunting WWII memoir that chronicles the life of Louis Zamperini – from Olympian to pilot to POW. The sad content found my eyes lost in a haze of emotion.
The tortures of POW camp for Louis created a mental wound within me transporting me back to a time 20 years earlier when I would sit next to my frail grandpa listening to his stories of the same war. His narratives, never flowing easily, always came with a choked up weeping that forced the wells inside me to burst the same. I was 14. I wanted answers. By the time I was a junior in high school I started arranging formal interviews with Gramps and his war buddies. His friends seemed to enjoy the dialogues, but my grandpa would just sit in silent agony, forcing a smile or a thumbs-up sign whenever he thought I was looking. I always noticed. Over time the story was revealed that my grandpa’s ship, the U.S.S Block Island, was sunk in the Atlantic Ocean by a German submarine. Instead of abandoning ship as ordered, my grandpa raced to the bottom deck to drain the fuel lines, saving thousands of lives when the second torpedo blasted the empty fuel tanks. He was later awarded the Bronze Star for "bravery at the risk of death." Later in the summer of 1992 my grandma brought me a trunk of Gramps WWII memorabilia. In this hidden chest, I found my Grandpa’s navy uniform, his Bronze Star, and a book issued to him at the finale of the war.
As I opened the heavy front panel the opening page read: "The dead of WW2 could build a marching line of men 18 times around the earth."
I paused, palms sweaty. My heart drifted into horror as I absorbed the remaining 2000 pages. Dead soldiers everywhere. Bombings. Raids. Beheadings. Skeletons standing behind walls of the Holocaust. Gas chamber. Nuclear bombs. Rape. Torture. Pain.
My 17-year old mind absorbing the world as it had been humans as they can be. All at once. Condensed. The ebbings of my young spirit shifting from rage, to sadness, to shame. There in the darkness of humanity, I understood my grandpa’s sorrow for the first time, for it broke my heart as I knew it had broken his.
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Time passed into college. I spent my free time reading every WWII book I could get my hands on. At this age I have learned to recognize a humble treasure hidden within each remarkable story: that of hope.
Edmund Burke said, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men and women to do nothing." Here in these stories I found remarkable evidence that there is still great goodness in the world.
Fast forward to August 1, 2014. I am walking through the Nazi concentration camp in Dauchau, Germany. The tangible knowledge of suffering lay palpable in the stale air. In that grieving place thousands of people born with the light of God committed outrageous atrocities. In that moment the darkness of the world triumphed over good; illustrating, once again, that dual sides of humanity.
Desmond Tutu said, "My humanity is bound up in yours, for we are human together." The collective future of this world will best be served with a humble tenacity to forgive, love, and serve. Can we abandon the negative judgments on behalf of a world desperately in need of peace? Can we learn from the past? For as my hero "Lucky" Louis said, "I know we can make a life which seems impossible, possible."
Last, but not least: Always count yourself among the accountable. Raise your voice for the chance of a united people, so that like Louis Zamperini, we can remain "unbroken."
Tanya Taylor, owner of Tanya Taylor Productions, is an dancer, choreographer and musician.