95 yr. old Louie at interview by Jay Leno in June of 2012
Below is a History of Louie, taken from several sources.
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
jumble of bomber remains. The lifeblood of the plane—oil,
hydraulic fluid, and hundreds of gallons of fuel—slopped about on the
Curling among the hunks of wreckage were threads of blood.Zamperini
managed to grab the life raft and deploy it. Philips sustained a head
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,)
place they were sent was Kwajalein Island,
which Zamperini would come to regard as the worst time of his life.
small hut-like cell, he observed the names of nine U.S. Marines carved
wall; when he asked what had become of him, he was told they had all
decapitated. "That's what they do to all prisoners who come here,"
matter-of-factly explained a Japanese guard who spoke English.
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.
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.
other POWs were rescued and repatriated. In his hometown of Torrance,
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