January 9, 2012
In May of 1943 while on a search and rescue mission over the Pacific Ocean Lieutenant Louis Zamprini’s bomber crashed due to mechanical failure. Only Louie and two men survived and took to two life rafts. After floating on the sea for 33 days one of the men succumbed to starvation. Louie and his raft mate, pilot Allen “Phil” Philips, were finally picked up by the Japanese Navy on their 46th day at sea and sent to a prisoner of war camp in Japan. At the camp they endured cruel treatment at the hands of their Japanese captors, the worse one being a vicious sergeant named Mutushiro Watanabe whom the Americans referred to as the “Bird.” Watanabe took an immediate dislike to Zamparini and continually singled him out for his ruthless and brutal treatment at one time beating him senseless with a belt buckle. Zamparini survived the prison experience but when he returned home he was nearly out of his mind with rage at the treatment he’d received from the Bird so much so that his nightly dreams were nightmares of torture and mistreatment at his hands. He eventually turned to alcohol and by 1949 had become convinced that the only way to gain peace was to return to Japan and find and murder the former guard.
That year, Billy Graham began his evangelical campaign in Los Angeles. Louis’s wife, Cynthia, was invited by some friends to a meeting one night and found Christ as her Savior. Her efforts to get Louie to go were fruitless. He wanted nothing to do with religion. After Cynthia and his friends pressed him he said he’d go, with the motive to get them to leave him alone. The first night he became furious at the message and left in a rage. Cynthia encouraged him to try one more time. He went reluctantly but at the end of the sermon something changed in his heart and he surrendered his life to Christ. He said at that point all the hatred, rage and bitterness left him and he was filled with a contentment and peace he’d never experienced. He had become a new creation in Christ. All his nightmares concerning the Bird stopped that night and when he thought of his former tormentor it was without the explosive fury that had consumed him before.
Louie returned to Japan in 1950 as a Christian speaker at Sugamo Prison and spoke to a group of Japanese war criminals, among them various ones who had abused him during his time as a POW. He looked for the Bird but he was not there.* At the end of his talk Louie asked for the men who had guarded him to come to the front. As the men moved down the aisle Louie met them half way and embraced them. They were stunned that one who had been so wrongly treated could treat an enemy like this but through it they experienced the true and lasting forgiveness of God. Louie returned home and began various Christian outreaches, one being a camp for troubled boys in the San Bernardino Mountains above Los Angeles. He never returned to Japan but could now think of his former tormentor as a man in need of Christ. As of this writing Louie is still living at the age of 94 years and is still involved in telling others how Christ changed his life. One cannot adequately explain how something like this could be yet the proof is in the years of this man’s life after 1949. All we can say of this great miracle is God gave sight to a man’s blind rage.
*Watanabe later received amnesty for his war crimes and became a very wealthy business man. Louie wrote him a letter telling him he had forgiven him and asked him to become a Christian. Mutushiro Watanabe died in April of 2003 and it is unknown whether he found faith in Christ or not.