One The One-Boy Insurgency n thepredawn darkness of august 26, 1929, in the back bedroom of a small house inTorrance, California, a twelve-year-old boy sat up in bed, listening. There wasa sound coming from outside, growing ever louder. It was a huge, heavy rush,suggesting immensity, a great parting of air. It was coming from directly abovethe house. The boy swung his legs off his bed, raced down the stairs, slappedopen the back door, and loped onto the grass. The yard was otherworldly,smothered in unnatural darkness, shivering with sound. The boy stood on thelawn beside his older brother, head thrown back, spellbound. The sky had disappeared. An object that he could see onlyin silhouette, reaching across a massive arc of space, was suspended low in theair over the house. It was longer than two and a half football fields and astall as a city. It was putting out the stars. What he saw was the German dirigible Graf Zeppelin. Atnearly 800 feet long and 110 feet high, it was the largest flying machine evercrafted. More luxurious than the finest airplane, gliding effortlessly overhuge distances, built on a scale that left spectators gasping, it was, in thesummer of '29, the wonder of the world. The airship was three days from completing a sensationalfeat of aeronautics, circumnavigation of the globe. The journey had begun onAugust 7, when the Zeppelin had slipped its tethers in Lakehurst, New Jersey,lifted up with a long, slow sigh, and headed for Manhattan. On Fifth Avenuethat summer, demolition was soon to begin on the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel,clearing the way for a skyscraper of unprecedented proportions, the EmpireState Building. At Yankee Stadium, in the Bronx, players were debuting numbereduniforms: Lou Gehrig wore No. 4; Babe Ruth, about to hit his five hundredthhome run, wore No. 3. On Wall Street, stock prices were racing toward an all-timehigh. After a slow glide around the Statue of Liberty, theZeppelin banked north, then turned out over the Atlantic. In time, land camebelow again: France, Switzerland, Germany. The ship passed over Nuremberg,where fringe politician Adolf Hitler, whose Nazi Party had been trounced in the1928 elections, had just delivered a speech touting selective infanticide. Thenit flew east of Frankfurt, where a Jewish woman named Edith Frank was caringfor her newborn, a girl named Anne. Sailing northeast, the Zeppelin crossedover Russia. Siberian villagers, so isolated that they'd never even seen atrain, fell to their knees at the sight of it. On August 19, as some four million Japanese wavedhandkerchiefs and shouted "Banzai!" the Zeppelin circled Tokyo and sankonto a landing field. Four days later, as the German and Japanese anthemsplayed, the ship rose into the grasp of a typhoon that whisked it over thePacific at breathtaking speed, toward America. Passengers gazing from thewindows saw only the ship's shadow, following it along the clouds "like ahuge shark swimming alongside." When the clouds parted, the passengersglimpsed giant creatures, turning in the sea, that looked like monsters. On August 25, the Zeppelin reached San Francisco. Afterbeing cheered down the California coast, it slid through sunset, into darknessand silence, and across midnight. As slow as the drifting wind, it passed overTorrance, where its only audience was a scattering of drowsy souls, among themthe boy in his pajamas behind the house on Gramercy Avenue. Standing under the airship, his feet bare in the grass,he was transfixed. It was, he would say, "fearfully beautiful." Hecould feel the rumble of the craft's engines tilling the air but couldn't makeout the silver skin, the sweeping ribs, the finned tail. He could see only theblackness of the space it inhabited. It was not a great presence but a greatabsence, a geometric ocean of darkness that seemed to swallow heaven itself. The boy's name was Louis Silvie Zamperini. The son ofItalian immigrants, he had come into the world in Olean, New York, on January26, 1917, eleven and a half pounds of baby under black hair as coarse as barbedwire. His father, Anthony, had been living on his own since age fourteen, firstas a coal miner and boxer, then as a construction worker. His mother, Louise,was a petite, playful beauty, sixteen at marriage and eighteen when Louie wasborn. In their apartment, where only Italian was spoken, Louise and Anthonycalled their boy Toots. From the moment he could walk, Louie couldn't bear to becorralled. His siblings would recall him careening about, hurdling flora,fauna, and furniture. The instant Louise thumped him into a chair and told himto be still, he vanished. If she didn't have her squirming boy clutched in herhands, she usually had no idea where he was. In 1919, when two-year-old Louie was down with pneumonia,he climbed out his bedroom window, descended one story, and went on a nakedtear down the street with a policeman chasing him and a crowd watching inamazement. Soon after, on a pediatrician's advice, Louise and Anthony decidedto move their children to the warmer climes of California. Sometime after theirtrain pulled out of Grand Central Station, Louie bolted, ran the length of thetrain, and leapt from the caboose. Standing with his frantic mother as thetrain rolled backward in search of the lost boy, Louie's older brother, Pete,spotted Louie strolling up the track in perfect serenity. Swept up in hismother's arms, Louie smiled. "I knew you'd come back," he said inItalian. In California, Anthony landed a job as a railwayelectrician and bought a half-acre field on the edge of Torrance, population1,800. He and Louise hammered up a one-room shack with no running water, an outhousebehind, and a roof that leaked so badly that they had to keep buckets on thebeds. With only hook latches for locks, Louise took to sitting by the frontdoor on an apple box with a rolling pin in her hand, ready to brain anyprowlers who might threaten her children. There, and at the Gramercy Avenue house where theysettled a year later, Louise kept prowlers out, but couldn't keep Louie inhand. Contesting a footrace across a busy highway, he just missed gettingbroadsided by a jalopy. At five, he started smoking, picking up discardedcigarette butts while walking to kindergarten. He began drinking one night whenhe was eight; he hid under the dinner table, snatched glasses of wine, drankthem all dry, staggered outside, and fell into a rosebush. On one day, Louise discovered that Louie had impaled hisleg on a bamboo beam; on another, she had to ask a neighbor to sew Louie'ssevered toe back on. When Louie came home drenched in oil after scaling an oilrig, diving into a sump well, and nearly drowning, it took a gallon ofturpentine and a lot of scrubbing before Anthony recognized his son again. Thrilled by the crashing of boundaries, Louie wasuntamable. As he grew into his uncommonly clever mind, mere feats of daringwere no longer satisfying. In Torrance, a one-boy insurgency was born. If it was edible, Louie stole it. He skulked down alleys,a roll of lock-picking wire in his pocket. Housewives who stepped from theirkitchens would return to find that their suppers had disappeared. Residentslooking out their back windows might catch a glimpse of a long-legged boydashing down the alley, a whole cake balanced on his hands. When a local familyleft Louie off their dinner-party guest list, he broke into their house, bribedtheir Great Dane with a bone, and cleaned out their icebox. At another party,he absconded with an entire keg of beer. When he discovered that the coolingtables at Meinzer's Bakery stood within an arm's length of the back door, hebegan picking the lock, snatching pies, eating until he was full, and reservingthe rest as ammunition for ambushes. When rival thieves took up the racket, hesuspended the stealing until the culprits were caught and the bakery ownersdropped their guard. Then he ordered his friends to rob Meinzer's again. It is a testament to the content of Louie's childhoodthat his stories about it usually ended with "...and then I ran likemad." He was often chased by people he had robbed, and at least two peoplethreatened to shoot him. To minimize the evidence found on him when the policehabitually came his way, he set up loot-stashing sites around town, including athree-seater cave that he dug in a nearby forest. Under the Torrance Highbleachers, Pete once found a stolen wine jug that Louie had hidden there. Itwas teeming with inebriated ants. In the lobby of the Torrance theater, Louie stopped upthe pay telephone's coin slots with toilet paper. He returned regularly to feedwire behind the coins stacked up inside, hook the paper, and fill his palmswith change. A metal dealer never guessed that the grinning Italian kid whooften came by to sell him armfuls of copper scrap had stolen the same scrapfrom his lot the night before. Discovering, while scuffling with an enemy at acircus, that adults would give quarters to fighting kids to pacify them, Louiedeclared a truce with the enemy and they cruised around staging brawls beforestrangers. To get even with a railcar conductor who wouldn't stopfor him, Louie greased the rails. When a teacher made him stand in a corner forspitballing, he deflated her car tires with toothpicks. After setting alegitimate Boy Scout state record in friction-fire ignition, he broke hisrecord by soaking his tinder in gasoline and mixing it with match heads,causing a small explosion. He stole a neighbor's coffee percolator tube, set upa sniper's nest in a tree, crammed pepper-tree berries into his mouth, spatthem through the tube, and sent the neighborhood girls running. His magnum opus became legend. Late one night, Louie climbedthe steeple of a Baptist church, rigged the bell with piano wire, strung thewire into a nearby tree, and roused the police, the fire department, and all ofTorrance with apparently spontaneous pealing. The more credulous townsfolkcalled it a sign from God. Only one thing scared him. When Louie was in lateboyhood, a pilot landed a plane near Torrance and took Louie up for a flight.One might have expected such an intrepid child to be ecstatic, but the speedand altitude frightened him. From that day on, he wanted nothing to do withairplanes. In a childhood of artful dodging, Louie made more thanjust mischief. He shaped who he would be in manhood. Confident that he wasclever, resourceful, and bold enough to escape any predicament, he was almostincapable of discouragement. When history carried him into war, this resilientoptimism would define him. Louie was twenty months younger than his brother, who waseverything he was not. Pete Zamperini was handsome, popular, impeccablygroomed, polite to elders and avuncular to juniors, silky smooth with girls,and blessed with such sound judgment that even when he was a child, his parentsconsulted him on difficult decisions. He ushered his mother into her seat atdinner, turned in at seven, and tucked his alarm clock under his pillow so asnot to wake Louie, with whom he shared a bed. He rose at two-thirty to run a three-hourpaper route, and deposited all his earnings in the bank, which would swallowevery penny when the Depression hit. He had a lovely singing voice and agallant habit of carrying pins in his pant cuffs, in case his dance partner'sdress strap failed. He once saved a girl from drowning. Pete radiated a gentlebut impressive authority that led everyone he met, even adults, to be swayed byhis opinion. Even Louie, who made a religion out of heeding no one, did as Petesaid. Louie idolized Pete, who watched over him and theiryounger sisters, Sylvia and Virginia, with paternal protectiveness. But Louiewas eclipsed, and he never heard the end of it. Sylvia would recall her mothertearfully telling Louie how she wished he could be more like Pete. What made itmore galling was that Pete's reputation was part myth. Though Pete earnedgrades little better than Louie's failing ones, his principal assumed that hewas a straight-A student. On the night of Torrance's church bell miracle, a well-directedflashlight would have revealed Pete's legs dangling from the tree alongsideLouie's. And Louie wasn't always the only Zamperini boy who could be seensprinting down the alley with food that had lately belonged to the neighbors.But it never occurred to anyone to suspect Pete of anything. "Pete nevergot caught," said Sylvia. "Louie always got caught." Nothing about Louie fit with other kids. He was a punyboy, and in his first years in Torrance, his lungs were still compromisedenough from the pneumonia that in picnic footraces, every girl in town coulddust him. His features, which would later settle into pleasant collaboration,were growing at different rates, giving him a curious face that seemed designedby committee. His ears leaned sidelong off his head like holstered pistols, andabove them waved a calamity of black hair that mortified him. He attacked itwith his aunt Margie's hot iron, hobbled it in a silk stocking every night, andslathered it with so much olive oil that flies trailed him to school. It did nogood. And then there was his ethnicity. In Torrance in theearly 1920s, Italians were held in such disdain that when the Zamperinisarrived, the neighbors petitioned the city council to keep them out. Louie, whoknew only a smattering of English until he was in grade school, couldn't hidehis pedigree. He survived kindergarten by keeping mum, but in first grade, whenhe blurted out "Brutte bastarde!" at another kid, his teachers caughton. They compounded his misery by holding him back a grade. He was a marked boy. Bullies, drawn by his oddity andhoping to goad him into uttering Italian curses, pelted him with rocks, tauntedhim, punched him, and kicked him. He tried buying their mercy with his lunch,but they pummeled him anyway, leaving him bloody. He could have ended thebeatings by running away or succumbing to tears, but he refused to do either."You could beat him to death," said Sylvia, "and he wouldn't say'ouch' or cry." He just put his hands in front of his face and took it. As Louie neared his teens, he took a hard turn. Aloof andbristling, he lurked around the edges of Torrance, his only friendships forgedloosely with rough boys who followed his lead. He became so germophobic that hewouldn't tolerate anyone coming near his food. Though he could be a sweet boy,he was often short-tempered and obstreperous. He feigned toughness, but wassecretly tormented. Kids passing into parties would see him lingering outside,unable to work up the courage to walk in. <BR><BR><i>Continues...</i> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>Unbroken</b> by <b>Laura Hillenbrand</b> Copyright © 2010 by Laura Hillenbrand. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc.<br> All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.