The true story about Louis Zamperini I read in "Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption" by Laura Hillenbrand (2010).
Zamperini (1917) grew up as a rascal in Torrance, California. He devoted himself to running, with his brother Pete as a coach. He qualified for the 5000 meters at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. After the game, he shook Hitler's hand. Zamperini admittedly came home without medals, but thought he would make a good chance for the 1940 Games.
He did not get that chance.
During World War II, in 1941, Zamperini joined the US Air Force. He undertook several bombing flights to islands in the Pacific, which were then occupied by the Japanese.
During a flight on May 27, 1943, while searching for a crashed plane, Zamperini’s own plane, the Green Hornet, crashed into the sea. He survived the crash with two other soldiers, Russell Allen "Phil" Phillips and Francis "Mac" McNamara. For weeks, they floated around in two dinghies, circled by sharks. They lived on rainwater and raw fish. Mac died of hunger and exhaustion. The boats were strafed by a Japanese fighter, but the crew miraculously survived the attack.
After 47 (!) days on the ocean, they washed ashore of the Marshall Islands, completely malnourished, and were immediately captured by the Japanese. Initially, the reception was good, but soon things changed: solitary confinement and a starvation diet followed.
Both were taken by the Japanese to another island, Ofuna. The guards of the POW (prisoner-of-war) camp on this island were brutal and ruthless.
Zamperini survived this hell and was transferred to the POW camp Omori on a tiny island, just off the coast of Tokyo. Here he faced his biggest tormentor, the infamous Mutsuhiro Watanabe, aka the Bird. This sadist whipped him off every day, just for pleasure.
The Bird was transferred to another POW camp. Shortly, Zamperini was transferred too, because he refused to work for the Japanese war propaganda. In the next POW camp, Naoetsu, just off the Japanese coast, the atrocities of the Bird awaited him again.
Zamperini also survived this ordeal. The war ended and he was welcomed in the United States as a war hero, but then he suffered severely from post-traumatic stress syndrome.
After visiting a number of meetings of the famous evangelist Billy Graham, Zamperini converted to Christianity. He left behind his nightmares. In 1998, when he was 81 years old, he was in Japan to carry the Olympic torch at the Winter Olympics in Nagano. On that occasion, he contacted Watanabe. After the war, he was one of the forty most wanted war criminals, but was never caught and convicted. Later, he took advantage of the general amnesty. Watanabe (1918-2003) had no need to meet Zamperini once again.
Zamperini was a frequent speaker and for many years led a camp for young people.
In 1998, Zamperini wrote a letter to Watanabe; click for the video in which he reads the letter to the Bird.
Zamperini's story shows how much the body, mind and soul of man can endure. Someone who has to endure what Zamperini endured and then in very old age is so cheerfully, is an example to us all, as far as I’m concerned.
Zamperini's message: "Don’t give up, don’t give in, there's always an answer."
In November 2014, the movie “Unbroken”, directed by Angelina Jolie, was released.
For the book, I refer to www.unbroken-book.com.
Louis Zamperini died July 2, 2014, 97 years old.
This blog post is a repost of my (Dutch) June 9, 2014 post.
Read my May 20, 2013 blog post about the reason why of my English reposts.