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Published by Stephanie Starr
The story of POW Louis Zamperini and how he survived being a prisoner of war for two years during World War II. By Stephanie Starr
The story of POW Louis Zamperini and how he survived being a prisoner of war for two years during World War II. By Stephanie Starr

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Published by: Stephanie Starr on Sep 29, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Sharks, Torture
Olympic runner and World War II VeteranLouis Zamperini survived 47 days at seaand 2 years as a prisoner of war.Eat your heart out, Richard Hatch.
Max Sports & Fitness Magazine23
by Stephanie Starr 
photos courtesy Louis Zamperini 
Louis Zamperini
ithout warning the RPMs on their plane’s rst motordropped. The B-24 gave a violent shutter, and thenthe second engine ollowed suit, cutting out entirely. The date was May 27, 1943, and somehow the relic oten usedor parts had passed inspection and been oisted upon them.On board, Olympic runner and Army Air Corps’ EleventhBomb Group bombardier Louis Zamperini, Lucky Louie tohis riends, knew it was a mistake. The little plane known asthe Green Hornet wasn’t their rst choice, but they took it justthe same. An aircrat had been reported missing o the coasto Oahu and Louie and his men were charged with locating it.Unortunately, they now aced becoming casualties as well.
Brace for Impact
At 800 eet above the water, pilot Russell Phillips didn’thave time to adjust the engines. The plane hit hard, rippingopen upon impact. Water fooded in rom every opening asthe aircrat sank with Louie still tangled amidst the wires.Somehow, through desperation and adrenaline, he reed himsel and swam or the surace.Pushing his head above the water, Louie scanned the wreckagein search o his crew mates. Tail gunner Francis McNamaraand pilot Phil clung to an auxiliary gas tank not ar rom where Louie was treading. Even rom a distance he could
see that Phil was barely conscious. Blood gushed rom a head wound into the water, posing an even greater dilemma. Thesharks would come soon.O the 10 crew members, they were now down to three, out inthe middle o nowhere with their lieboats driting arther away.Each infatable rat held a rst aid kit and ood rations. They needed to catch at least one to survive. At that moment the last 3eet o the 100-oot parachute chord attached to the closest ratslithered by him. Louie snagged it, using the line to pull himsel in, then paddled over to collect Phil and Mac.Pressing a wet shirt onto Phil’s wound, Louie bandaged himup beore taking inventory. Six nutrient-ortied chocolatebars, six pints o water, a patch kit, air pumps, a fare gun anda screwdriver. No knie. I they needed to sh or ood cuttinginto it would be a challenge.
Feeding Frenzy
Day’s slipped by, stringing thehungry men along with no rescuein sight. On the sixth night, Macpanicked and ate all the chocolatebars while Louie and Phil slept. By day 10 the water was almost gone.Soon days dragged by withoutanything to drink at all. No onecame or them but the sharks whotailgated along side the strandedsurvivors, waiting.“Any creature is dangerous whenhungry,” Louie said, rememberingback to those brutal days, “And thatgoes double or man because he hasthe brains and the ingenuity to get what he wants.”And what Louie wanted was revenge. A chance to make a mealo the sharks that were trying so hard to make one o him.Using himsel as bait, Louie lured one over and grabbed itstail, intent on hauling it into the rat and killing it with thescrewdriver. Unortunately, he’d underestimated its strength and was knocked rom the saety o the rat during the struggle.Limbs failing in desperation, his moves ended up temporarily rightening the sharks o long enough or him to scramble back into the lieboat unscathed. Ater that he decided to wait orsmaller prey.Several days o hunger passed, but when smaller sharks didarrive, Louie was ready. Once again, he lured one in andgrabbed it by the tail. This time he successully hauled it intothe rat and in went the screwdriver. Dinner was served. Only dinner was raw. Desperate and starving, they easted on the onepart that was sae to eat, the liver.
Dive & Cover 
By day 27 the men were barely conscious when they heard thesound o a plane in the distance. Waving and shouting, it wasonly when the crat drew closer that they realized their mistake. The enemy had ound them.Into the cold water with the sharks they dove as they soughtprotection against the spray o bullets ejected rom the JapaneseSally. The men positioned themselves back to back several eetbeneath the rat. Each time a shark attempted to close in, it waspunched in the snout or its eorts. Time and air passed, and eventually they were orced to surace. They’d just managed to ease their emaciated bodies back intothe damaged rat when the plane swung back around again. This time Phil and Mac were too weak to jump back in and Louie doveor the water alone.Punctured lie rats are designed toperorm a small amount o sel-sealing. People aren’t. Below thesurace Louie watched bullets piercethe canvas his riends lay upon.Amazingly, when he suraced heound that none o the 48 rat holesrefected human damage. That wasthe good news. The bad…No more than 30 eet away romthem, a depth charge rom the enemy plane slipped below the surace. The men braced themselvesor the destruction such a powerul weapon would surely wreak.But ater a ew moments… nothing. No explosion. No death. The bombardier hadn’t charged it properly. Somehow Lucky Louie’s monkier still held despite the odds. The Japanesedeparted—incorrectly assuming a successul mission—and oreight days straight the men pumped water out, patched up holesand ended o sharks. They experienced several days o calm beore the next disasterstruck, or rather rammed into them. It hit in the middle o thenight, bruising their sides with its impact. The men roze. They had a new visitor. A big one. Twenty eet in length, the great white shark glided by theragile rat and dove under.
Again, it slammed up rombelow, swishing its tail so water poured over the side into therat and slithered over the terried men. The soldiers remained
Louis Zamperini
“We looked down andsaw this great fn go by. Itseemed to be consciouso us. Then it disappearedunder the rat andthumped it.
Max Sports & Fitness Magazine24
motionless. For a good hour the shark thumped and splashed,raying their already tattered nerves. Then it made one last diveand disappeared entirely. That marked a change or the worst in Mac. By day 33,despondent and emaciated, he passed away. Louie and Phil saida quiet eulogy and gave his body over to the sea.
Out of the Frying Pan...
Day 47 brought a welcome sight.Land. They’d foated into the MarshallIslands, 2,000 miles rom their originalcrash site. But relie soon turned toterror when they spotted a Japanesepatrol ship.“Suddenly the thought o being aloneon the ocean seemed more invitingthan ever,” Louie said. Weak and rail, Louie had lost nearly 100 pounds while at sea. Resistance wasn’t an option as the Japanesetransported them to Kwajalein, knownas Execution Island. Shoved into a cellno larger than a dog kennel, the oncea powerul athlete curled his skeletalorm up into a ball and cried. Torture was a daily occurrence to break their spirits and extract inormation.Food was a rice ball, thrown onto thefoor while guards jeered at him as hetried to extract the lth rom it. This, however, was nothing comparedto the island physician’s experiments.Injected with a smoky-looking liquid,the men soon contracted dengue ever. Their misery lasted our weeks, butthe beatings never slowed.“They took great joy in telling us we would be executed,” Louie said.“Every morning we woke up thinking,this is the day they will kill us.” The Japanese, however, had other plans. Louie’s celebrity asan Olympic athlete made him useul. Soon he and Phil weretranserred to Ouna, an interrogation camp in Japan. It wasthere that Louie discovered something even more shocking thanthe abuse he’d suered. A amiliar ace.
 When Friends Become Enemies
 The moment they’d arrived at the camp, Louie was shuttledinto an oce to meet with the head brass.“Hello Louis,” a memorable voice said. “It’s been a long timesince USC.” There across the desk romhim, stood ormer University o Southern Caliornia classmate James Sasaki. However, here he was ocially known as the headinterrogator o the entire Japaneseprison camp system. And, mostimportantly, he made it clear thattheir ormer riendship meantnothing. There would be no specialtreatment. The conditions at Ouna werephysically and emotionally miserable. Winter orced prisonersto sleep in their clothes with only paper blankets or warmth. Still wearing the short-sleeved uniormhe crashed in, Louie’s only helpcame rom a prisoner kind enoughto spare a coat.On September 30, 1944 thingstook a turn or the worst. Louie was transerred to the prison campo Omori and it was there thathe met his nemesis, Matsuhiro Watanabe, a man simply known as The Bird.“Deranged, brutal beyond belie, vicious like someone who torturedanimals as a child beore turninghis evil talents on people, The Bird,by his mere existence, allowed meto ocus all the hatred I’d let ester,”Louie said.A stickler or clean shoes, The Birdrequired those who returned to thebarracks with soiled boots to lick theclean. The ground was littered with sewage, and to avoid such apunishment prisoners oten wore bags over their bare eet.“My riend would say to me, ‘Louie, why don’t you just look at him with ear in your eyes, just give him what he wants?’
Louis Zamperini
Max Sports & Fitness Magazine25
“I remember lookingdown at the bones o my knees and I cried. Iremembered mysel whenI was a powerul athleteand now I am just skinand bones; a skeleton.”

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