Torrance resident James David left a Sunday morning speech by hometown hero Louis Zamperini clutching two relevant books of the day: a Bible and The New York Times best-seller "Unbroken."
The latter book chronicled the Torrance World War II hero's remarkable journey from juvenile delinquent to Olympic runner, aviator, prisoner of war, born-again Christian and inspirational speaker.
The former provided the signposts Zamperini needed to reclaim his life after spending 47 days adrift in a lifeboat and 2 1/2 years enduring vicious abuse at the hands of a sociopathic prison guard.
Plagued by nightmares that drove him to abuse alcohol, Zamperini attended a crusade by a then young preacher named Billy Graham. And then the nightmares abruptly stopped.
"His story is really about forgiveness and redemption," David said. "There's no other way somebody could be healed of the nightmares that he had other than Christ coming into his life and God healing him.
"It's a wonderful story."
A week removed from his 96th birthday, Zamperini has given much the same speech during his years as a motivational speaker.
Nevertheless, the capacity crowd of 500 attending the King's Harbor Church Game Day Men's Breakfast at the James Armstrong Theatre sat engrossed as Zamperini recounted his remarkable tale once more.
It was laced with one-liners that provided the necessary comic relief from his grim story.
Asked once whether there were any redeeming qualities to being a POW, Zamperini replied, "Yes, it prepared me for 55 years of married life."
Zamperini was informed after the war ended that he was eligible for travel pay - $7.60 a day for the 47 days he spent drifting thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean in a rubber lifeboat after his airplane was shot down.
"We got a letter back in about 10 days," he recalled. "(It said:) `Request denied.' Reason: `Travel unauthorized."'
Zamperini recalled that "Unbroken" was therapeutic both for himself and its readers, no matter their age.
A 10-year-old boy who regularly stole cookies from his mother told Zamperini the book "completely changed my life."
A depressed dialyses patient contemplating suicide read the book and said, "If that guy can spend 47 days on a raft, I can finish my dialysis."
But not everyone was inspired by the book's central theme of conversion and change.
"One guy said to me, `I've read your book from cover to cover and I'm still miserable,"' Zamperini recalled. "He missed the point of the book.
But for the likes of Torrance resident Bill Farr and his 11-year-old son, Cary, it was Zamperini's tale of perseverance that struck a chord.
"Louis was honest in how he started out (with) kind of a rough life and he's finishing well, and I wanted my son to see that," Farr said. "Sometimes that's where life will take you, but there is redemption in that you can fall a little bit, but get back up and keep heading in a good direction."
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