Louis Zamperini

95 yr. old Louie at interview by Jay Leno in June of 2012
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Below is a History of Louie, taken from several sources.
Louis Zamperini, an Italian immigrant; Olean, NY and moved to Torrance, CA. He won a scholarship to USC and at age 19 participated in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin as a 5,000m runner and finished eight. Louie's room mate was Jessie Owens. It was here he shook hands with Adolf Hitler, then Nazi Chancellor of Germany. Two years later in 1938, Zamperini set a national collegiate mile record which held for 15 years. He was nicknamed the "Torrance Tornado".

World War II brought an end to the running career for Louis. He served as a bombardier on two B-24s. The first, which the crew named "Super-Man" was damaged and they were assigned the B-24D "Green Hornet" to conduct search and rescue.

They took off on May 27 1943 at 18:30 on a search mission [bound for Palmyra Atoll, a planned refueling airfield, after the search.] Over the search area, there was cloud cover down to 1,000' and the bomber dove to 800' to search. The No.1 engine experienced problems and died. The engineer accidentally feathered the No.2 engine, the bomber quickly angled to the left and crashed into the sea. This B-24 was reported as missing when it failed to arrive at Palmyra. The aircraft had crashed into the Pacific Ocean. Eight of the 11 crewmembers were killed except Zamperini, the pilot, Russell A. Phillips, and Francis McNamara, who managed to survive the crash and escape on a life raft. Only Zamperini and Phillips survived their 47 days adrift on the sea. When his plane hit the ocean, Louie heard nothing at all.

There were only soundless sensations: the plane tearing apart, his body hurtling forward, wires whipping around him, water over him, gravity dragging him under. He thrashed against the wires, and the plane carried him down. Louie was drowning. He struggled uselessly, sinking deeper and deeper, the water growing darker and heavier around him. He thought: Hopeless. There was a bolt of pain in his head, then nothing.

He woke in total darkness, sensing the plane still around him, still deep underwater, sinking. Inexplicably, miraculously, the wires had vanished. He groped along the wreckage, found an opening, and kicked through. He pulled the inflation cords on his life vest and felt it lift him. He burst into dazzling daylight and breathed.

The ocean was a jumble of bomber remains. The lifeblood of the plane—oil, hydraulic fluid, and hundreds of gallons of fuel—slopped about on the surface. Curling among the hunks of wreckage were threads of blood.Zamperini managed to grab the life raft and deploy it. Philips sustained a head wound during the crash.

Repeatedly, they were set upon by ravenous sharks, monstrous sea creatures that grew more sophisticated over time in the manner in which they circled and lunged at their prey. They ate only sporadically, occasionally catching an albatross and fashioning its bones into a set of fake claws, which Louie fastened to his hand and used to clutch at the odd fish swimming just beneath the surface. "Then another week went by, another albatross landed on my head, and I grabbed him," Zamperini told Fox News. "And I'll tell you, that bird tasted like hot fudge sundae with nuts and whipped cream on it! We were laying back like the kings did, in the movies ... living high off the hog."
Fox News' Matt Silverstein

McNamera survived 33 days at sea then died. The survivors said a prayer and buried him at sea. After 47 days at sea, Zamperini and Phillips were captured by the Japanese Navy and taken prisoner.

When I took off my blindfold my brain and my eyes fluttered with the unreality of it all. After nearly two months floating under cast open skies and infinite seas, I found myself locked in a cubicle the size of a dog kennel. The instant claustrophobia made me want to scream, but I was too weak. Instead, I lay down and looked at my body. Just six weeks before I’d been a vigorous athlete who could run a mile in just over four minutes. Now I was fleshless, skeletal. All my life I had kept my emotions tightly in check when it came to my own troubles, but I could no longer help myself. I broke down and cried. (Zamperini, Devil at My Heels,)

The first place they were sent was Kwajalein Island, which Zamperini would come to regard as the worst time of his life. Confined to small hut-like cell, he observed the names of nine U.S. Marines carved into the wall; when he asked what had become of him, he was told they had all been decapitated. "That's what they do to all prisoners who come here," matter-of-factly explained a Japanese guard who spoke English. "Execution Island" was how Kwajalein came to be known to American soldiers.

The chief difference between the ordeal at sea and the POW camp, of course, was that at sea, Louie and his comrades mostly had to confront only the cruelties of the sun and the monsoon-like rains, the limits of hunger and thirst, the temptations of dementia and the ever-circling sharks. In the hands of the Japanese, however, it was the Americans' dignity that was assaulted, and they were forced to confront the ugly fact that man's cruelty to his fellow man far exceeds anything seen amongst the animals of the jungle or the creatures of the sea.

After spending a year of his life at Ofuna, Louie was sent to Omori, a manmade sand spit - between Yokohama and Tokyo - which housed hundreds of prisoners. In September of 1944, he met Mutsuhiro "The Bird" Watanabe. Watanabe was classified as a Class-A war criminal following the war for his abuse of prisoners of war (POWs) held by the Japanese military.
Similar in age to Louie, the Bird was among the less distinguished members of an affluent Japanese family. The Japanese accountant at the camp, tracked down decades later, told that the Bird fixed upon Zamperini with singular fury, regarding him as "Prisoner Number One" and subjecting him to viciousness unmatched even by his brutal treatment of the other captives. Zamperini had nightmares on this Bird guy, for years.

Louie and the other POWs were rescued and repatriated. In his hometown of Torrance, Calif., Louie married a beautiful young socialite named Cynthia Applewhite.

When a Fox News producer asked Zamperini if he considered himself a hero, he bristled, explaining that men who return home from war missing a limb -- or more -- are the real heroes. After seeing just these kinds of men during a visit to a Veterans Affairs hospital, Louie returned home and made a decisive gesture. "I took all my medals and I put 'em in a drawer, and shoved 'em away, and I haven't seen 'em since!"        A Fox News Contribution