My aunt once introduced this game that my family plays once in a great while. Actually, I don’t suppose it is so much a game as it is a “food for thought” topic which is: If you could invite any five people—dead or alive—to a dinner party who would it be? I first played this game when I was around 12. My five choices then were (in no particular order):
A few months ago I rethought my guest list for the first time in years. My list at 23 has changed somewhat from when I was 12:
However, I think I may now need to rescind Grace Kelly’s invitation and instead extend an invite to a prank-pulling Olympian who stole a Nazi flag right off the Third Reich Chancellery and spent 47 days drifting 2,000 miles in a life raft on the Pacific Ocean.
(Photo by Thomas Sanders/tomsandersphoto.com)
In fact, I know I want Louie Zamperini at my dinner party because that description barely scratches the surface of the enthralling tale that is Zamperini’s life. Throughout Lauren Hillenbrand’s bestselling Unbroken: A Story of WWII Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, I was captivated by the story of a charismatic troublemaker growing up into an international track star turned Army Air Corps Bombardier and eventual POW in the Japanese theater of World War II.
Within the first few chapters of the book, I had chills going down my spine as I read about his running career, winning races and breaking national records. His journey to the 1936 Berlin Games was nothing short of astounding to me in addition to his finish in the Olympics. Despite not medaling in the race, he turned a 56 second final lap in the 5 kilometer race which even gained the attention of Hitler who requested to meet him: “Ah, the young man with the fast finish.” Louie was expected to be the first man to break the four minute mile, and I desperately wanted him to do so even though I knew the course of history would thwart that with the outbreak of WWII. If this were a fictional story, in my mind he totally would’ve broken that record and won gold.
But it’s not fictional. It’s a true story which makes it all the more astonishing because as a bombardier Louie took part in some epic battles, including one where his B24 crew survived flying hundreds of miles back to their base with their plane riddled with 594 holes. He is then one of three survivors in a horrific plane crash while searching for another plane. He and his friend and pilot Phil then survive 47 days drifting over 2,000 miles facing dehydration, starvation, typhoons, and sharks with extremely limited resources. I was amazingly impressed with his resourcefulness and attitude. Seriously, how can you not admire a guy whose attitude to sharks attacks is “Well, if they were going to try to eat me, I was going to try to eat them.”
And then when you don’t think things can get worse than eating raw bird and surviving Japanese fighter planes targeting your tiny raft, you read about the horrors of POW life in the Japanese hands and the hopelessness of the situation. I’m not even sure how those men survived. And yet there are a few bright points. The Japanese guards who treated the prisoners humanely when others didn’t. The small rebellions the prisoners found to keep their humanity and spirits alive. Simply amazing. And as corny as it may sound truly inspiring. If you ever feel like your life sucks, read these accounts to put things in perspective and to gain hope as to how truly resilient human beings can be.
Yep, Louie Zamperini definitely needs an invite to my dinner party. I was and still am absolutely enthralled by his life. Sorry Grace Kelly.