Louis Zamperini

By Chris Johnson

Background info

He was born on January 26, 1917. In high school he toke up running and qualified for the US in the 500m race for the 1936 Berlin Olympics. He finished 8th in the event. He enlisted into the US Air Force in 1941. He served as a bombardier in B-24 Liberators in the pacific. On a search and rescue mission, mechanical difficulties forced Zamperini plane to crash in the ocean. After drifting in the ocean for 47 days, he landed on the Japanese occupied Marshall Island and was captured.
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Explantion of Role/Significance in WWII

With the outbreak of World War II, the 1940 Olympics were canceled, and Zamperini enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He ended up a bombardier on the B-24 Liberator, and in May 1943, Zamperini and a crew went out on a flight mission to search for a pilot whose plane had gone down. Out over the Pacific Ocean, Zamperini’s plane suffered mechanical failure and crashed into the ocean. Of the 11 men onboard, only Zamperini and two other airmen survived the crash—but help was nowhere to be found, and the men were stranded on a raft together for 47 days. The month and a half at sea proved harrowing for the survivors, as they were subjected to the unrelenting sun, strafing runs by Japanese bombers, circling sharks and little drinking water.
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Specific Details

He went on to found a camp for troubled youths called Victory Boys Camp and forgave his Japanese tormenters. Some received Zamperini’s forgiveness in person in 1950, when he visited a Tokyo prison where they were serving war-crime sentences. In 1998, Zamperini returned to Japan once again to carry the torch at the Nagano Winter Games. He stated his intention to forgive the Bird, Mutsuhiro Watanabe, but Watanabe refused to meet with him.Scarred by his ordeal, upon his return home, Zamperini suffered from alcoholism, and he and his wife, Cynthia, came close to divorce. (They stayed married, though, for 54 years, until her death in 2001.) What brought Zamperini back from the brink was hearing a Billy Graham sermon in Los Angeles in 1949, a sermon that inspired Zamperini and began the healing process.
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