Former POW Recounts Survival Story

WWII vet Louis Zamperini talks at JSerra Catholic High about drifting at sea for 47 days after his plane went down, drinking rainwater and eating fish before he was captured by the Japanese.

Seventy years after he was captured and tortured by the Japanese during World War II, 95-year-old Louis Zamperini recounted his ordeal Friday to a rapt audience of students and faculty at .

Before the war, Zamperini was a 1936 U.S. Olympic runner whose blazing final lap in the 5,000-meter race earned him a handshake from Adolf Hitler

Seven years later, while serving as a bombardier in the U.S. Army, he was taken prisoner after a plane crash and 47 harrowing days at sea.

He and 10 other men had been aboard the Green Hornet, which took off from the island of Funafuti to search for a lost aircraft.

During the flight, a mechanical failure caused the plane to go down, killing most of the crew.   

“I was under the tripod of the plane when it happened and the life raft was stuck beneath me,” said Zamperini. “The wires were tangled around me like ... spaghetti. I cried out to God for help and was immediately set free.”

He and two others survived the crash, climbing into a life raft with just six bars of chocolate and six pints of water. The chocolate was eaten out of panic during the night.

After 10 days at sea, a plane flew over and hope was almost immediately restored. But the plane did not see them. Several days later, a Japanese plane zoomed by and fired shots. Zamperini dove underwater to avoid the bullets, he said. His crewmates were too weak to swim, but nobody was hurt.

Adrift at sea, the men survived by drinking rainwater and capturing a few fish and albatross. Nevertheless, after 33 days, one died of starvation. Two weeks after that, Zamperini and the remaining crewman landed on the Marshall Islands and were captured.

As prisoners of war, they were tortured and used as guinea pigs to try out various drugs and narcotics the Japanese had devised, he said. Several months later, the men were shipped to Ofuna, a man-made island off the coast of Tokyo that was designed especially for POWs.

There, Zamperini was tortured by a man named Mutsuhiro Watanabe, aka "the Bird." He was later transferred to a camp 400 miles north of Tokyo, only to be tormented by “the Bird” again, he said. Soon after, the war ended and he slowly made his way home to California.

After the war, he met the love of his life, Cynthia Applewhite, and married her in 1946. But he suffered from post-tramatic stress disorder and began drinking heavily. His wife persuaded him to go with her to a pair of Billy Graham revival meetings. There, he surrendered his life to Jesus Christ.

"After I knelt down and accepted Christ, my life changed and my nightmares were gone," Zamperini said.

In 1952, Zamperini returned to Japan to address a group of Japanese war criminals. He later wrote a letter of forgiveness to Watanabe, urging him to become a Christian.

Friday's talk at JSerra was the latest in a series of inspirational appearances for Zamperini, whose story has been chronicled in books, film and various news media accounts.

Kathi September 11, 2012 at 04:47 AM
Unbroken is good, but I would also suggest Devil At My Heels for his more personal touch--that is if you are interested. Also you can read the reviews on amazon of both books. I bought the updated version--w the different co-author than the older one I have--along w Unbroken on Amazon.
Kathi September 11, 2012 at 04:49 AM
Last Summer I looked on Amazon at the reviews & found links to Hillenbrand's website & also I think he had one. They may have a list of future speaking engagements. He was at Mt of Olives Lutheran in MV last Fall where I got to hear him again. So glad I did! It was worth it, even having to walk about 2 blocks w a broken foot!
Charles September 11, 2012 at 12:45 PM
Edit...Actually it was "Devil At My Heels" that I read.
Hercules1944 September 11, 2012 at 02:23 PM
[IMG]http://i152.photobucket.com/albums/s188/Hercules1944/194th%20Tank%20Battalion/WalterStraka002.jpg[/IMG] I am standing next to MR Walter Straka, a Bataan Death March survivor. He was with the local Guard unit her, activated just prior to WW11 and spent the war as a guest of the Japanese. What an amazing man. We are down to two survivors locally from that Tank unit. I also went to a 90th birthday party recently for a guy that jumped into Normandy in the wee hours of D-Day. Tell you what folks, I did 26 months USMC in NAM. Whateverever I saw ind did was pretty paltry when compared to the WW11 guys. Especially if you were a POW guest of the Japanese. God bless all them guys.
Charles September 11, 2012 at 03:53 PM
American death rates in POW Camps Nazi, 1% Vietnam 15% Korea 38% Japan 40%


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »