1936 Berlin Olympics, Military Training and Bombing Wake Island

Flying Combat Missions in the Pacific

47 Day Adrift, 18 Months of Torture and Being Born Again

Visiting Sagumo Prison and the Atomic Bombs

The 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany

The Loss of the Green Hornet


Louis Zamperini qualified for the 1936 Olympics and went to New York to compete with Don Lash [Annotator's Note: Donald Ray Lash] who held the two mile record. This took place during the Great Depression. Food had been scarce and when Zamperini went aboard the ship to the Berlin Olympics, he could not believe all of the food that was available to them. He ate the entire 14 days they spent crossing the Atlantic and by the time they landed overseas he had gained 14 pounds. In the Olympic village Zamperini sampled foods from all of the member nations. He kept gaining weight but was still able to make the finals. In the finals he could not keep up the pace. On the last lap he sprinted and completed it in 56 seconds. He finished eighth place. Zamperini ran the lap so fast that Hitler [Annotator's Note: German dictator Adolf Hitler] decided that he wanted to meet him. Zamperini met Hitler and Hitler shook his hand and called him the boy with the fast finish. When Hitler entered the stadium it was mandatory that the crowd give him a standing ovation. When Jesse Owens entered the stadium he got twice the ovation Hitler had gotten which Zamperini is sure Hitler did not like. Germany was clean and sanitary. Zamperini also noticed that the entire country was military. They were focused on the Olympics but were suspicious that Hitler would try to take over some nations. They had no idea it would be the whole world. The storm troopers were in the village to protect the Olympians. They were great guys. The Olympians would joke with them. The Olympians were issued a boy scout [Annotator's Note: not Boy Scouts but more than likely members of the Hitler Youth] who spoke English. Zamperini thought Germany was the perfect setting for the Olympics. Jesse Owens was a nice guy. Nothing got him down. He would return good for evil. Everybody loved him. Zamperini had a job at Lockheed working on P-38's [Annotator's Note: Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter aircraft]. It was exciting and he decided that he wanted to go into the air force. He enjoyed it until his instructor put him in a spin. Zamperini wanted out after that. He signed some papers and got out. He tried to get into Benning [Annotator's Note: Fort Benning, Georgia] to become a lieutenant in the infantry but when he got out of NCO school [Annotator's Note: he means officers candidate school or OCS] his orders sent him to Houston, Texas to an Air Corps outfit. The papers he had signed earlier were for bombardier school. Zamperini graduated as a bombardier in Midland, Texas. They were assigned a crew and sent to Ephrata, Washington to pick up a B-24 [Annotator's Note: Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bomber]. The B-24s were made by Consolidated. It was the most produced plane during World War 2 with planes being built by numerous companies including Ford and Chrysler. Since some of the manufacturers lacked aviation expertise and they ended up with a lot of lemons [Annotator's Note: slang for a defective aircraft] and lost more B-24s in training than in combat. The B-24 was faster than the B-17 [Annotator's Note: Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber], could carry twice the bomb load, and had a longer range which was needed in the South Pacific. Due to the vast distances they had to fly, one of Zamperini's missions was like ten missions in Europe. They were the first to bomb Wake Island. They took six of the 500 pound bombs out of their bomb bay and added more fuel tanks. At midnight on Christmas night 1942 they were to fly over Wake Island. The Norden bombsight was the most sophisticated weapon of World War 2. They [Annotator's Note: the bombardiers in Zamperini's group] were told to take them out of the plane and replace it with a little hand-held, 98 cent sight that they could use for dive bombing. They practiced diving from 8,000 feet and pulling out of the dive at 4,000 feet. When they got to Midway they were told by the Marines that they were going to bomb Wake Island. They were used to pulling out at 4,000 feet, but due to cloud cover over Wake they were forced to pull out at 2,000 feet. This added additional force on the plane. The bands on the fuel tanks expanded and when they pulled up the tanks dropped about an inch which prevented the bomb bay doors from closing. They were running out of fuel as they approached Midway. When they landed, all four engines quit before they got to the bunker. They had devastated the island. They had attacked with 26 planes and not one of them was hit by ack ack [Annotator's Note: slang for antiaircraft fire]. Zamperini later learned that Tokyo believed that the island had been attacked by dive bombers from an aircraft carrier.


Louis Zamperini thought that the mission [Annotator's Note: to bomb Wake Island] was a piece of cake because they were not hit. On their next mission they had to fly from Hawaii down to the Ellice Islands. On Funafuti they loaded up with a mixture of bombs and were told that they were to fly to the island of Nauru. Nauru was known for its phosphate which the Japanese needed for fertilizer and to build bombs. They launched a surprise attack with 26 B-24 [Annotator's Note: Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bomber] bombers. Zamperini was in the lead flight of three. He got his bombs on his target and dropped his last bomb on what turned out to be a fuel depot. After dropping their bombs, Zamperini's B-24 was attacked by several Japanese Zero [Annotator's Note: Mitsubishi A6M fighter aircraft, also known as the Zeke or Zero] fighters. The plane was severely damaged and most of the crew were wounded. They were told to make a water landing 20 miles from Funafuti and that a submarine would pick them up but they decided to try to get back to base. The pilot and copilot managed to get the plane back, but they had no brakes so Zamperini anchored two parachutes to the upper part of the belly turret. As soon as they touched down the plane ground looped to the left. The copilot hit the right brake and there was just enough fluid left to lock it temporarily which forced them back to the right. It had been a bloody mission. They lost their crew and they lost their ship. The plane was so badly damaged that it could not be repaired. They were sent back to Hawaii to pick up a new ship and new crew. The next mission was their deadly mission. After returning from a mission, Zamperini was all dressed up to head into Honolulu when the operations officer told him and his crew that a B-25 [Annotator's Note: North American B-25 Mitchell medium bomber] had been reported downed 200 miles north of the island of Palmyra and that Zamperini's crew was to go look for them. Zamperini's crew protested that they had just flown a mission and were due two days off. Their plane also required servicing which would take 24 hours. The operations officer told them that the Green Hornet was available. Zamperini knew what the Green Hornet was. No one wanted to fly it because it could not get off of the ground with a bomb load. They were told that the plane had just passed an inspection so Zamperini's crew took it out to look for the downed crew. They got to the area and began looking for debris. They were flying at about 800 feet when one engine quit. The crew was new and when the pilot called the flight engineer and told him to feather the prop, the engineer feathered the wrong one. Now they had two engines out on the port side of the plane. The plane dropped like a rock and impacted hard on the water. Zamperini found himself trapped under the tripod for one of the machine guns. The plane started sinking. As the plane sank deeper and deeper he knew he was dead. He passed out and when he came to, he was free and was floating around in the plane fighting for air. He got out of a side window, inflated his life jacket, and floated to the surface. Zamperini heard a call for help and saw the pilot bleeding badly. Zamperini tried to swim to a life raft but the current was taking it away. Suddenly the last few feet of the cord attached to the life raft passed right in front of his face. He grabbed the rope and was able to get himself, his pilot, and the tail gunner into it. That began their 47 days drifting in the South Pacific.


They [Annotator's Note: Louis Zamperini, his pilot and their tail gunner] spent 47 days fighting off sharks, the elements and enemy air attacks. They were in the water dying of hunger and thirst when a Japanese Sally [Annotator's Note: Mitsubishi Ki 21 bomber, known to the Allies as the Sally] bomber flew over. Instead of trying to help them, the plane strafed them. Miraculously none of them were hit. They caught a few sharks and ate the livers. They also caught a couple birds and a couple fish. On day 33, the tail gunner died. They were eventually picked up in the Marshall Islands by a Japanese boat. They had to be carried over the shoulders of the Japanese because they were so weak. Zamperini was down to 65 pounds. They were somewhat of an attraction when they were brought ashore. From there they were taken to Kwajalein where they spent 43 days in a filthy cell. They were scheduled to be executed but before the sentence was carried out a Japanese officer who had followed sports stopped them. He told them that they would be more use doing propaganda broadcasts. Zamperini refused to do the broadcasts and ended up in a slave labor camp. At the camp there was a special tormentor named Sergeant Watanabe who they nicknamed "The Bird." The Bird's job was to make Zamperini's life so miserable that he would agree to do the broadcasts on Tokyo Rose's program. When the war ended the inmates had plans for Sergeant Watanabe. They were going to murder him, but he learned of the war ending before the inmates did and fled up into the mountains. In the camp Zamperini was punched almost every day. He was hit so hard one time that he fell to the ground, bleeding badly. Zamperini got up and he was hit again so he stayed down. He endured this for a year and a half. He was transferred to another camp and, unfortunately, The Bird was transferred to it too. To Zamperini the feeling he got when the war ended was almost worth what he had gone through. The Bird went into hiding. Even with a reward out for him he could not be found. It was not until 12 years later that he came out of hiding. As a result of the treatment he suffered at the hands of The Bird, Zamperini had constant nightmares. After returning home he started drinking heavily. He got married and had a little girl. His wife considered divorcing him. His wife went to hear the Evangelist Billy Graham and decided because of her conversion she would not divorce him. Zamperini remembered his promise to God that if he survived the POW [Annotator's Note: prisoner of war] camp, he would devote his life to God. He confessed and renewed his faith. After that moment he found peace and no longer had nightmares. Zamperini now travels the country promoting the book, "Unbroken" [Annotator's Note: "Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption" is about Zamperini's experiences and was published in 2010]. He has dedicated his life to Christian service and promoting the book.


Louis Zamperini was converted in 1949. In 1951, he returned to Japan, particularly to visit Sugamo Prison because he had read that the war criminals were there doing their time. Sugamo was a restricted area. Life Magazine had been there for a year trying to get in and asked Zamperini to help them get in. He ended up getting in by contacting the chaplain at MacArthur's [Annotator's Note: US rmy general Douglas MacArthur] headquarters and reminded MacArthur that he had asked for missionaries to come to Japan. MacArthur's headquarters told him he could enter the prison the following morning at ten. There were 850 war criminals in the prison. Zamperini could not recognize any of them. Those who had been guards where Zamperini had been held were told to step up. One of the guards had gone to college with Zamperini at USC before the war. Zamperini asked about the Bird and was told that it was believed that he had committed harakiri, but he had not. From there, Zamperini went to Hiroshima for two weeks to visit burn victims in the hospital. At the hospital, Zamperini interviewed the patients who all told him that the bomb had saved lives. They felt honored that they were victims of bombing because ultimately lives were saved. They bomb was necessary and saved lives.

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