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Louis Zamperini (right) falling into the arms of his family on his return home. None of us believed it. None of us. Never once. Not underneath, even. That?s what Sylvia Zamperini would say about her family during World War II when confronted with the idea that her brother, Louis, had been killed. Even when the War Department assigned Louis Zamperini an ?official death date,? and President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a condolence letter, his mother knew he was still alive and that she would see him again, one day. She was right. Photo: Louis Zamperini

Louis Zamperini (right) falling into the arms of his family on his return home. None of us believed it. None of us. Never once. Not underneath, even. That?s what Sylvia Zamperini would say about her family during World War II when confronted with the idea that her brother, Louis, had been killed. Even when the War Department assigned Louis Zamperini an ?official death date,? and President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a condolence letter, his mother knew he was still alive and that she would see him again, one day. She was right. Photo: Louis Zamperini

Louis Zamperini

Survived More than One Execution Island

Louis Zamperini (1917 – 2014) was a U.S. Olympic runner, World War II bombardier, and POW survivor. During the war, his B-24 crashed at sea, leaving him and two other survivors lost at sea aboard a life raft for 47 days. Louis was found by the Japanese, where he was imprisoned and severely tortured for 2 1/2 years.

It is a good thing that Louis Zamperini was a runner. And not just any runner, but a 4-minute miler and an eighth place finisher in the 5,000-meter event at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Because the endurance the bombardier needed in order to make it home from the Pacific theatre was unfathomable.

Louis Zamperinis life was tumultuous from the beginning. As a blue-collar boy growing in Southern California, Zamperini fell in and out of scrapes with the law. By age 19, he’d redirected his energies into sports, becoming a record-breaking distance runner. He competed in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin where he made headlines, not just on the track (Hitler sought him out for a congratulatory handshake), but by stealing a Nazi flag from the well-guarded Reich Chancellery. The heart his story, however, is about Zamperini’s experiences while serving in the Pacific during World War II.

A bombardier on a B-24 flying out of Hawaii in May 1943, the Army Air Corps lieutenant was one of only three members of an 11-man crew to survive a crash into a trackless expanse of ocean. For 47 days, Zamperini and pilot Russell Allen Phillips (tail gunner Francis McNamara died on day 33) huddled aboard a tiny, poorly provisioned raft, subsisting on little more than rain water and the blood of hapless birds they caught and killed bare-handed. All the while sharks circled, often rubbing their backs against the bottom of the raft. The sole aircraft that sighted them was Japanese. It made two strafing runs, missing its human targets both times. After drifting some 2,000 miles west, the bullet-riddled, badly patched raft washed ashore in the Marshall Islands, where Messrs. Zamperini and Phillips were taken prisoner by the Japanese. The war still had more than two years to go.

Zamperini?s Father worked at the?Torrance Red Car Depot?repair barns ? he was known as a strong willed man who instilled the ?fighting spirit? in his son, Louis. After 47 days at sea, and two and a half years in a Japanese POW Camp, it was Louis Zamperini?s courage that enabled him to persevere. Louis was quoted, ?I was raised to face any challenge.?

Young Louis Zamperini was bad news. He was angry and rebellious. He had a taste for alcohol and a penchant for fighting. The police always seemed to be chasing him for something. Back in those tough days of the Great Depression, his future looked pretty grim.

Louis Zamperini was born in Olean, New York, in 1917, the second of four children, and moved with his family to Torrance, California, in the 1920s. Like many kids, he didn?t think much about the consequences of his actions.

Olympic Stadium, Berlin 1936. Runners in the foreground.

Olympic Stadium, Berlin 1936. Runners in the foreground.

In a whirlwind finish, Louis Zamperini of the University of Southern California made his first appearance in the IC4A Championships in New York on May 27, 1939 and set a new meet record for the mile a minutes, 11.2 seconds. Here?s Zamperini at the finish 20 yards ahead of Curtis Giddings of NYU, second. (AP Photo)

In a whirlwind finish, Louis Zamperini of the University of Southern California made his first appearance in the IC4A Championships in New York on May 27, 1939 and set a new meet record for the mile a minutes, 11.2 seconds. Here?s Zamperini at the finish 20 yards ahead of Curtis Giddings of NYU, second. (AP Photo)

Lou Zamperini?s life could have taken a whole other path, given its hard-scrabble start. ?My parents really loved me, but I kept getting into trouble,? The son of Italian immigrants, When the boys were still toddlers, they developed pneumonia.? The family doctor recommended a move to California, so the Zamperinis – who still spoke Italian in their home – moved to Long Beach.? Not long after, they settled in Torrance, and because they could speak no english they?quickly attracted the attention of neighbourhood bullies. His father taught him how to box in self-defense, and pretty soon ?I was beating the tar out of every one of them,? he says, chuckling. ?But I was so good at it that I started relishing the idea of getting even. I was sort of addicted to it.?
Before long he was picking fights just to see if anyone could keep up with him. From juvenile thug, he progressed to ?teenage hobo.? Hopping a train to Mexico, he courted danger for the thrill of it. ?I caught a wild cow in a ravine and tore my kneecap till it was just hanging off, I snapped my big toe jumping out of some giant bamboo; they just sewed it back on. I?ve got so many scars, they?re criss-crossing each other!?

He had a bravado that made him tough and resilient, but that also brought him some close shaves, such as the inevitable perilous falls that came with hopping freight trains. He almost drowned one day after plunging into the ocean. He was pulled out unconscious, but he survived?with the new nickname Lucky Louie.

As Zamperini entered his teenage years, he found an outlet for some of the energy that had led him to mischief: competitive distance running. Louis’s older brother got him interested in running in an effort to steer him away from a profligate life. Louis began running and never stopped.

At Torrance High School he proved a gifted miler in spite of that torn kneecap and severed big toe; as a junior in 1934, he was invited to run against Pacific Coast College champions in the Los Angeles Coliseum. Zamperini blew the competition away, setting a new interscholastic mile world record of 4:21.20 (it stood for 20 years) and winning by 25 yards.

As WW II ramped up, Louis found himself flying as a bombardier, one of the riskier jobs of the war. His number was up when he was called to fly a search mission in The Green Hornet, little more than a bucket of bolts; a plane that had been used for replacement parts for other planes--no one even knew if the critical parts were all there--that, and the plane had a notorious history of trouble. The Green Hornet went down killing all on board except Zamperini and two others.

As WW II ramped up, Louis found himself flying as a bombardier, one of the riskier jobs of the war. His number was up when he was called to fly a search mission in The Green Hornet, little more than a bucket of bolts; a plane that had been used for replacement parts for other planes–no one even knew if the critical parts were all there–that, and the plane had a notorious history of trouble. The Green Hornet went down killing all on board except Zamperini and two others.

Before long, he had set the interscholastic record in the mile. ?Newspapers started calling me Zamp the Champ,? he said. ?I relished every moment in the limelight, knowing at last I could make something of myself?.

Louis Zamperini was always exceptional.?In a time when the four-minute mile was one of the most elusive goals in sports, Zamperini pushed the limits. Zamperini set the national high school record for the mile in 1934 with a time of 4:21.3.

When ?the Tornado from Torrance? graduated, he was invited to train for the 1936 Olympic team at the USC track; he subsequently entered USC on a scholarship. Under coach Dean Cromwell, Zamperini set a national collegiate mile mark of 4:08.3 that stood for 15 years, and in 1940 he ran an indoor mile in 4:07.6 at Madison Square Garden.
Too bad his luck didn?t hold in Berlin, where Zamperini threw away his once-in-a-lifetime chance at Olympic glory.
?Well, you have to understand what those times were like,? he said sheepishly. ?I was a Depression-era kid who had never even been to a drugstore for a sandwich. Here I was, leaving Torrance, going on a train to New York City, going on a boat to Germany. This was more exciting to me than making the [Olympic] team. And all the food was free. I had not just one sweet roll, but about seven every morning, with bacon and eggs. My eyes were like saucers.?
By the end of the trans-Atlantic voyage, the saucer-eyed Olympic hopeful had put on 12 pounds. With this extra cargo packed onto his kinetic frame, Zamperini finished the 5,000 meter in eighth place, with a time of 14:45.8, but ran the fastest final lap of all the competitors in an unprecedented 56 seconds.

Even so, he managed to delight an arena full of spectators, including Adolf Hitler.
?It was quite a sight,? he recalled. ?Though I?d been behind, I sprinted the whole last lap, running it in 56 seconds after three whole miles. The crowd was going nuts.?
Afterward, as photographers snapped Zamperini?s picture, Hitler requested to meet that young man. Hitler?s chief propagandist invited the young American runner to come shake hands with the Nazi leader.

Adolph Hitler hadlooked on as the last lap of the 5,000 meter Olympic race was being run. He saw a young American run the last lap of the race in a scorching 56 seconds. Astonished, Louis was brought to Hitler and introduced. Hitler shook Louis’s hand and said, “Ah, you’re the boy with the fast finish.”

Unclear, is whether Hitler knew that Louis Zamperini shared a room at the 1936 Olympics with Jesse Owens.?Or…that after meeting Hitler, Louis was reported as saying, ” I was pretty naive about world politics…and thought he looked funny, like something out of a Laurel and Hardy film, especially the way he stamped his feet and slapped his thighs.”

Young (19 yrs.) Louis thought the Fuhrer was a funny enough guy that he asked some skinny guy to take a picture of him with Hitler. The skinny guy turned out to be Joseph Goebbels.

Initially refusing to ever set foot in Japan again, Louie Zamperini relented. Among other places, he visited men charged with war crimes who were being held at Sugamo Prison. He forgave all the men who had harmed him while Zamp was a POW. Image online, courtesy Louis Zamperini.

Initially refusing to ever set foot in Japan again, Louie Zamperini relented. Among other places, he visited men charged with war crimes who were being held at Sugamo Prison. He forgave all the men who had harmed him while Zamp was a POW. Image online, courtesy Louis Zamperini.

Years after Zamperini was asked what he thought of the dictator, and he paused to reflect: ?It wasn?t until many years later that I looked back and realized I?d shaken hands with the worst tyrant the world has ever known.? His impression at the time was of a man with ?an annoying disposition, like a dangerous comedian.?
The young Olympian?s off-the-track exploits were equally sensational. One of his bunkmates was famed sprinter Jesse Owens. ?He was a prince of a guy, a sweet, humble man,? Zamperini recalls. ?The coach told him to keep an eye out for me because I was, you know, a bit frisky ? and they were letting us go out into the city at night.?
Apparently Owens wasn?t watchful enough, because Zamperini almost lost his life again, executing a harebrained prank: trying to snatch a Third Reich souvenir.
?They don?t have small-sized beers in Germany,? Zamperini noted, by way of excuse for his lunatic caper. ?I was drinking in a pub across from the Reichstag where some Nazi flags were flying, and I thought, ?I?ve got to have that flag for a souvenir.??

?I was drinking in a pub across from the Reichstag where some Nazi flags were flying, and I thought, ?I?ve got to have that flag for a souvenir.?? Louis Zamperini

?I was drinking in a pub across from the Reichstag where some Nazi flags were flying, and I thought, ?I?ve got to have that flag for a souvenir.?? Louis Zamperini

The inebriated American had already clambered up the flagpole when he heard the guards shouting and firing in the air. Zamperini?s German consisted of a single word: bier. All the same he got the point; meekly climbing down, he offered flattery: ?I wanted to take it home to remember my wonderful time here,? he told the guards in English. After conferring with their colonel, the soldiers decided to let the crazy athlete have his souvenir. (That flag, along with the ring from Adolphe Menjou and many other souvenirs, are now part of the Zamperini Museum.)
Ironically, in his next life-and-death crisis, it was academics, not athletics, that would save Zamperini: specifically, the teachings of USC physical education professor Eugene Roberts. ?Dr. Roberts really inspired us,? Zamperini recalls. ?He taught us about the human body, what muscles we were using. He also taught us to take inventory of our minds, to think before we opened our mouths. A good lesson in mind over matter.?
After the Olympics and graduation from USC, Zamperini had planned to continue competing as an athlete; he was favoured to take a victory lap in the 1940 Games.

By early 1940, Zamperini had dropped his mile time to 4:07.9. Yet as Zamperini came closer to the four-minute mile, the United States came closer to war. There would be no Olympics in 1940. Zamperini was forced to forego running for a career in the military.

It is, also, not known if Hitler found out that Louis, after meeting him at the Olympics,?climbed up a flagpole and stole Hitler’s own personal flag. Louis Zamperini kept Hitler’s flag and a few years ago was photographed holding the “memento” stolen from right in front of the Fuhrer’s nose.

Little did Zamperini know the irony involved in the act, because soon after the Olympics, Zamperini joined the Army Air Corps and was trained as a bombardier against Axis forces.

Louis Zamperini on his wedding day in 1946.

Louis Zamperini and his wife Cynthia Applewhite on their wedding day in 1946.

Zamperini with his wife.

Zamperini with his wife.

His life as a teenage delinquent had conditioned him for the war; it was his USC lessons in mind over matter that saved him.
In May 1943, during a search-and-rescue mission 800 miles south of Hawaii, his B-24 went down over the Pacific. (Remarkably, Zamperini?s Trojan ring hooked onto the plane?s shattered window frame, enabling him to hoist himself free of the sinking craft.) He and two other survivors drifted 2,000 miles on a life raft with rations of only a few bottles of water and six chocolate bars. When those ran out, they subsisted on tiny fish, sharks, birds, and rainwater.
? It really was a test of survival,? said Zamperini. ?As we drifted, I remembered Dr. Roberts. He taught us to exercise all sections of the brain. Though the other guys never knew it, every morning I took inventory to see how we all were doing mentally.?
Zamperini quizzed them about their childhoods, coaxed them into crooning hymns and Bing Crosby tunes, and cooked ?imaginary meals? for breakfast, lunch, and dinner ? ?with brain-teasers about how many eggs, how much baking powder to use. There was never a dull moment on that raft,? he says. They fended off sharks by bludgeoning them with paddles. Fired on by a Japanese bomber, they miraculously escaped the aerial onslaught without injury and spent the next eight days repairing their bullet-riddled, waterlogged rubber raft.
On the 33rd day, the tail gunner died. They slipped him overboard, a burial at sea, Zamperini wrote in his autobiography. On the 47th day, they made landfall in the Marshall Islands and were promptly taken prisoner by the Japanese. Zamperini?s toned 165-pound frame had shrunk to a skeletal 70 pounds. His ordeal was far from finished.

Lt. Louis Zamperini, bombardier on Lt. Russell A. Phillips? plane, examining a shell hole in the side of the fuselage.

Lt. Louis Zamperini, bombardier on Lt. Russell A. Phillips? plane, examining a shell hole in the side of the fuselage.

Lt. Louis Zamperini, bombardier, examining the damage a Japanese cannon shell did to his Liberator over Nauru. The plane still managed to fly back, 1943.

Lt. Louis Zamperini, bombardier, examining the damage a Japanese cannon shell did to his Liberator over Nauru. The plane still managed to fly back, 1943.

Capt. Louis Zamperini (left) makes broadcast to the United States after spending 28 months in a Japanese Prison Camp.

Capt. Louis Zamperini (left) makes broadcast to the United States after spending 28 months in a Japanese Prison Camp.

For 25 months in such infamous Japanese POW camps as Ofuna, Omori and Naoetsu, Mr. Zamperini was physically tortured and subjected to constant psychological abuse. He was beaten. He was starved. He was denied medical care for maladies that included beriberi and chronic bloody diarrhea.

Transferred to the secret interrogation centre at Ofuna near Yokohama on the Japanese mainland, Zamperini was listed as an ?unarmed combatant? beyond the jurisdiction of international law. Because news of his capture was suppressed, he was officially posted missing, presumed dead. In time his obituaries appeared, life insurance benefits were paid and posthumous medals posted to his mother by the US military.

At Ofuna, Zamperini found that the smallest violation of the rules resulted in severe beatings, often at the hands of the medical officer, the pitiless Sueharu Kitamura, known as ?the Butcher? or ?the Quack?. Starvation rations were infested with maggots, rat droppings and sand and grit that split and cracked the captives? teeth.

In September 1944, after a year and 15 days at Ofuna, Zamperini was transferred to Omori, a prison camp on an artificial island in Tokyo Bay. It was there that he encountered among the guards Corporal Mutsuhiro Watanabe, ?the Bird?. Watanabe soon became obsessed with Zamperini and his fame as an athlete, resenting him on sight and identifying him as his ?number one prisoner?.

The Bird intended to make an example of the famous Olympian.

This spectacularly cruel guard beat Zamperini every day and ordered his fellow PoWs to do the same. Once, on Watanabe?s orders, Zamperini was punched in the face by each of 220 of his comrades in turn.

Displaying a weird streak of sexual frisson, Watanabe himself would often beat Zamperini on the temple with the heavy brass buckle of his belt, then helping him staunch the blood and whispering words of comfort before attacking him again in exactly the same way.

After recurrently whipping him across the face with the buckle he would force him to perform demeaning acts, among them push-ups atop pits of human excrement. The Bird’s goal was to force Mr. Zamperini to broadcast anti-American propaganda over the radio. Mr. Zamperini refused. Following Japan’s surrender, Mr. Watanabe was ranked seventh among its most wanted war criminals (Tojo was first). Because war-crime prosecutions were suspended in the 1950s, he was never brought to justice.

After the war, Watanabe?s name appeared on a list of Japanese war criminals, ranked alongside that of the country?s Prime Minister, Hideki Tojo. In the immediate postwar years Zamperini made strenuous efforts to track him down.

More than a third of the 35,000 US servicemen in Japanese captivity died, having been beaten, starved, dehydrated, made to take part in medical experiments or forced into slave labour. This compared to the American death rate in German PoW camps of barely one per cent. But in spite of his dehumanising treatment, Zamperini could be counted lucky: his modest fame as an Olympian and his consequent potential as a propaganda tool almost certainly saved his life when he was captured after nearly seven weeks adrift as a castaway and held at Kwajalein, a Japanese-held atoll in the Marshall Islands known as Execution Island.

As the tide of war turned against Japan, ?the Bird? grew increasingly violent towards Zamperini; the pair became locked in a race for survival, with Zamperini not knowing whether Watanabe would break him before liberation, or whether the Japanese would enact the emperor?s order in the event of surrender to ?kill all? prisoners.

Zamperini was also threatened with beheading, subjected to medical experiments, routinely beaten, starved, forced into slave labour and hidden in a secret interrogation facility. He was moved from one dungeon and concentration camp to the next, from Kwajalein Island to Truk Island, and on. ?At Yokohama, he helped unload 10,000-ton ships, shovelling out coal and refuse from the latrine. The guards always had their favourite punishment for you, like doing push-ups over the latrine, then pushing your head in it.

Sick with a high fever and falling behind, Zamperini recalls one camp guard screaming at him: ?You lick your boots, or you die!? When Zamperini refused, the guard cracked him on the head with his belt buckle, and then ordered him to hold a wooden beam over his head. Zamperini lasted 37 minutes before passing out.
Kept in a state of near starvation, and being forced to eat rice off the floor, tossed there by high-ranking Japanese officials ?all dressed in white with gold braid, dining on delicious-looking meals in front of us.?
During one memorable interrogation in Ofuna, a camp outside Yokohama, Zamperini?s USC days came flooding back. Looking up at his interrogator, he recognized an old acquaintance.
?Hello, Louis,? said the familiar, suave voice of James Sasaki. ?It?s been a long time since USC.? Sasaki had studied at Harvard, Princeton and Yale before attending USC. Despite a 10-year age difference, the two men had shared a love of sports and a large circle of Japanese-American friends in the South Bay.
Now here he was again, questioning a beaten, starved Zamperini. ?I remember thinking, that guy couldn?t have been a Trojan. He must have transferred from UCLA,? Zamperini said.
Zamperini later learned that Sasaki had been a Japanese spy back in their student days, reporting back to his operatives on ship movements in the harbor at Long Beach. When the war came, Sasaki had fled to Japan and eventually had been placed in charge of 91 POW camps.
Hoping to capitalize on Zamperini?s status as a former U.S. Olympian, Sasaki tried to recruit his old classmate to broadcast anti-American propaganda. Zamperini declined. To break his spirit, Sasaki forced him to run a relay race against well-fed Japanese runners. Despite his near-skeletal condition, he prevailed.
?He kept reminding me about the food in the Student Union. You can imagine how I felt about it at that point,? groaned Zamperini.

With his liberation from the POW camp in September 1945, Zamperini once again made headlines ? a war hero returned from the dead. In a Red Cross mess in Yokohama where hungry soldiers elbowed their way toward coffee, donuts, and Coke, a?New York Times?reporter approached him, trolling for a story.
?What?s your name, soldier?? the reporter asked the emaciated second lieutenant.
?Louis Zamperini.?
?It can?t be. Zamperini?s dead,? the reporter replied.

Louis Zamperini Crashed Into the Pacific on May 27, 1943.

Louis Zamperini Crashed Into the Pacific on May 27, 1943.

Reaching for his wallet, Zamperini produced his USC Silver Life Pass, good for admission to all Trojan games. (Only athletes who had lettered three years in a row got the sterling pass engraved with their names.) It was the sole ID Zamperini?s captors had left him. The reporter blinked, gazed and proceeded to bombard the missing bombardier with questions.
?I was so mad,? Zamperini recalled, more interested in food than fame at that moment. ?All I could think about was the donuts. I ended up searching on the floor for chunks.?
Zamperini?s rescue made the front pages of both the?New York Times?and the?Los Angeles Times, and he was given a hero?s welcome upon his return stateside.
?I must have lived two lifetimes in that six-month period,? he said. ?I was invited to a million parties. At Warner Brothers, John Ford filmed an all-studio party for the boys coming home. I got to dance with Maureen O?Hara. Any bar I went into in Hollywood, I never had to buy a drink.?
Not that money was a problem. His parents had tried returning the national life insurance they had collected upon his ?death,? but the government wouldn?t take it back.

As another post-war perk, Zamperini was invited for a two-week rest cure in Miami. ?They put us up in a swank hotel, threw us a party, sent us deep-sea fishing. One night, my buddy and I crashed a private party; we saw these two beautiful girls.? One of the dazzling debutantes was Cynthia Applewhite.
?It was love at first sight,? said Zamperini. A whirlwind two-week romance ended in a marriage proposal. They were together for 55 years until her death, and raising two children, Cissy and Luke.
His days of athletic prowess were over, but Zamperini settled into post-war life energetically. He went into war surplus, selling Quonset huts and other materials to the studios. He also sold commercial real estate and was invited, as a community leader, to join the state legislature (he declined, citing a business conflict of interest).
But psychologically, these years proved more tumultuous than Zamperini had anticipated. He revisited emotional terrain he hadn?t seen since he was a teen. And he was haunted by memories of his captivity

Although Zamperini came back to California in one piece, he was emotionally ruined. At night, his demons descended in the form of vengeful dreams about Mr. Watanabe. He drank heavily. He nearly destroyed his marriage. In 1949, at the urging of his wife, Cynthia, Zamperini attended a Billy Graham crusade in downtown Los Angeles, where he became a Christian. (The conversion of the war hero helped put the young evangelist on the map.) Ultimately Zamperini forgave his tormentors and enjoyed a successful career running a centre for troubled youth. He even reached out to Watanabe. “As a result of my prisoner of war experience under your unwarranted and unreasonable punishment,” Mr. Zamperini wrote his former guard in the 1990s, “my post-war life became a nightmare ?, but thanks to a confrontation with God ? I committed my life to Christ. Love replaced the hate I had for you.” A third party promised to deliver the letter to Watanabe. He did not reply, and it is not known whether he received it. He died in 2003.

Zamperini also believed in preparing oneself for crisis. All his life, he had taken survival courses whenever he could find them. He was a Boy Scout, and in the military, when optional courses on survival or first aid were offered, he took them. When he was stationed on Oahu, an elderly Hawaiian offered a course in surviving shark attacks. Almost none of the soldiers showed up, but Louie did, and the lessons he learned ended up saving his life. “Be prepared,” was a motto of his.

“Forgiving someone is healing. To hate somebody hurts you.”

For Louie, survival came down to a willful act of optimism. Faced with situations that he was extremely unlikely to survive, he willed away any thoughts of his own demise, focusing instead on how to think his way out of his perils, to prevail over them, always believing there was an answer. He said that when he was on the raft for those 47 days, attacked by sharks, strafed by a Japanese bomber, starving, deprived of water, he never once thought about dying. That in itself is an incredible act of will. It’s a lesson we can all carry into the crises and struggles of our lives.

For many servicemen and women, the war isn’t over when it’s over. The hell Louie went through after the war was, sadly, very typical of former POWs and veterans of the Pacific War. PTSD has been a very common consequence of war throughout history, and we are only now learning how to address it. Louie’s life story is a beacon of hope for those who struggle with this terrible echo of war.

He was in the very depths of PTSD, addicted to alcohol, suffering hallucinations, prone to fits of rage, destroying his marriage, tormented by nightmares, yet he did find a way out. He found true, lasting, complete peace.

Louie Zamperini’s saga is breathtaking, but the fortitude he displayed in his ordeal was not singular. His entire generation was forged in the crucible of the Great Depression, a time of staggering and almost universal hardship. The children of that generation grew up into extraordinarily intrepid, self-sacrificing, resourceful men and women who had no sense of entitlement and an almost unassailable resilience.

Reaching adulthood just as the world descended into the most monstrous war in history, these individuals proved stronger than their hardships. Tested as few people ever have been, Louie displayed all of the marvelous attributes of his generation.

Zamperini displaying his fitness in later life. Photo: Louis Zamperini

Zamperini displaying his fitness in later life. Photo: Louis Zamperini

?I tell kids to be aware of what?s going on around them, in the street, in class, to size up the situation, think of the consequences, It?s the one thing schools neglect to teach in the classrooms, and it?s the answer to all the choices we make and to all survival in this world.??

Louis Zamperini?

Louis Zamperini married, in 1946, Cynthia Applewhite, who died of cancer in 2001. Their daughter survives them.

Louis Zamperini, born January 26 1917, died July 2, 2014.? He was 97.

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