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  • He was one of the fastest men alive, who made it from a humble beginning to the Olympics.

  • But when World War II came around, could this athlete turned war hero outrun death itself?

  • This is the story of Louis Zamperini, and what would come to be known as the Miracle

  • on the Pacific.

  • Zamperini's story began in 1917, in a humble New York residence populated by two Italian

  • immigrants who spoke no English.

  • Louis had an older brother named Pete and two younger sisters, but from an early age

  • he tended to run into trouble.

  • His strict Catholic parents kept a close eye on him, but Louis had a tendency to get into

  • danger.

  • Not only did he frequently scrap with bullies who picked on him for his Italian accent,

  • but he once got nabbed by the police for stealing a beer.

  • And then there was the time he nearly died in a house fire before the family's move

  • to California, and the time he nearly died by falling into an oil rig.

  • It was clear something needed to change - and the answer turned out to be sports.

  • His father taught Louis to box, and soon he was punching back at his bullies and winning

  • just about every fight - but he maybe enjoyed it a little too much.

  • It wasn't going to keep him out of trouble, especially as he entered high school.

  • But his older brother Pete had another idea.

  • A star on the track team, he brought Louis on board - which may not have been the best

  • thing for his own athletic prospects.

  • It turned out Louis was fast.

  • Very fast.

  • Instead of outrunning the cops, the younger Zamperini brother was soon outrunning the

  • competition by the end of his freshman year.

  • He was soon undefeated, taking down his own brother's records and setting all-time bests

  • for the mile.

  • He wound up getting a scholarship to the University of Southern California where he became a track

  • star - but a far bigger spotlight for his running skills was beckoning.

  • It was 1936, and America's best athletes were about to enter the biggest spotlight

  • possible.

  • Zamperini qualified for the Berlin Olympics on one of the hottest days of the year in

  • New York, in a race that saw many other racers collapse due to the triple-digits heat.

  • To this day, he's the youngest American to qualify for the 5,000 meter race.

  • While he didn't win the race, coming in eighth, his final lap shocked the world with

  • a stunning fifty-six second time, even getting the attention of the leader of their host

  • nation.

  • And that's how Louis Zamperini met Adolf Hitler, with the German dictator insisting

  • on a personal meeting.

  • The Olympics were over, but Hitler and the war he would help launch would cast a long

  • shadow over Zamperini's life.

  • Zamperini returned to college, setting a national record for the fastest collegiate mile, but

  • tensions were ramping up around the world, and it was clear war was coming.

  • The man nicknamed theTorrance Tornadodidn't want to wait for war to break out

  • and potentially get drafted, so in September 1941 he enlisted in the Army Air Force.

  • Like his running career, he blazes his way through the ranks and was a Second Lieutenant

  • by the time he was sent to the island nation of Tuvalu as part of the crew on the B-24

  • bomber Super Man.

  • Zamperini was already a sports star - but he was about to become a hero.

  • He was soon assigned to the role of bombardier as the US military moved against the Japanese-held

  • island of Nauru.

  • The crew pulled off a successful raid, but the consequences were severe.

  • The bomber took heavy damage when they were attacked by three Japanese Zero warplanes,

  • with over five hundred holes shot into the ship's hull.

  • The crew didn't escape unscathed either, with Zamperini losing one man and helping

  • to save the lives of four others, who were wounded in the assault.

  • Super Man's days as a bomber were over, but Zamperini's World War II battle was

  • just beginning.

  • Zamperini and the rest of his crew were transferred back to Hawaii and assigned to a new bomber,

  • the Green Hornet.

  • But there were already rumbles around the base that this bomber had a history of mechanical

  • difficulties.

  • That didn't stop the brass from sending it out on a search-and-rescue mission to look

  • for a lost aircraft and its crew.

  • It was May 27th, 1943, and the Green Hornet was over eight hundred miles from Hawaii when

  • it encountered mechanical difficulties, crashing into the ocean.

  • All eleven men aboard were declared missing in action.

  • After a year with no sign of them, the crew was declared killed in action, and Louis Zamperini

  • was assumed to be one of the many heroic war dead of World War II.

  • But the video's not even half over.

  • So you know there's more to the story.

  • Eight of the eleven crew members of the Green Hornet were killed immediately, but three

  • survived and managed to get away from the wreckage on life rafts.

  • They were Russell Allen Phillips, Francis McNamara, and Louis Zamperini.

  • But while they had survived the crash, their battle was just beginning.

  • They had barely any food and no water - and were surrounded by nothing but salt water.

  • A desperate struggle to survive ensued, with the trio collecting rainwater, catching small

  • fish, and trying to kill any birds that landed on their raft.

  • And if that wasn't enough, they had to survive each other.

  • Tensions rose quickly when McNamara got desperate and ate their meager supply of chocolate,

  • but proved himself an able ally when a shark attacked the boat.

  • He grabbed an oar and was able to fend off the massive carnivorous fish - but alas, the

  • shark didn't have an oar allergy and they weren't able to capture it for food.

  • As the days dragged on, they developed methods for survival, including using pieces of bird

  • meat as bait to catch fish.

  • But other dangers awaited, including storms and the constant threat of Japanese war planes

  • - several of which strafed the raft with bullets, barely missing them.

  • But the human body can only take so much.

  • It had been thirty-three days at sea, with the men surviving on barely any food and whatever

  • water they could harvest from the sky.

  • McNamara's body gave out first, succumbing to the brutal conditions.

  • The two remaining men wrapped his body in whatever they had on hand, pushing it overboard

  • and giving their fallen comrade a solemn, informal funeral at sea.

  • And with that, the Green Hornet's crew was down to two.

  • It would be forty-seven days before Zamperini and Phillips would see another soul - but

  • it wouldn't be a rescue.

  • The two survivors washed ashore the Marshall Islands, but the small country was currently

  • under Japanese military occupation, and the American soldiers were quickly taken into

  • custody.

  • They were immediately subjected to the hospitality of the Japanese empire - notorious for its

  • harsh beatings and interrogations, often in violation of international laws governing

  • the treatment of POWs.

  • But they hadn't been classified as POWs.

  • And their toughest battle was just beginning.

  • It was just over a month when Zamperini and Phillips were transferred from the Marshall

  • Islands to Japan, where they were taken to the notorious Ofuna camp near Yokohama.

  • This camp wasn't for standard Prisoners of War - it was for high-value prisoners,

  • typically officers and those like pilots and submarine crew who had in-depth knowledge

  • of military technology.

  • Japan kept this facility mostly off the books, not classifying it as a prisoner camp and

  • even denying access to the International Red Cross.

  • While the official Japanese position was that it was only a temporary holding facility,

  • the reality under its brutal commander, Yokura Sashizo, was very different.

  • Life at Ofuna had one goal - to break down its captives.

  • The first hardship was solitary confinement - of an unusual kind.

  • Captives were housed in individual cells and talking was strictly forbidden.

  • Wait, who would they talk to if they were in solo cells?

  • Under the strict supervision of the guards, even talking to themselves was forbidden.

  • The cells were bare, with no blankets and only the clothes on their back, Meals consisted

  • of only a small portion of rice and soup.

  • The closest thing to recreation allowed was sitting on the outside of the cell, staring

  • straight ahead.

  • But when the interrogations began, boredom would have been welcome.

  • Inmates were frequently beaten and hit with wooden clubs, both during interrogation and

  • for the slightest infraction.

  • Guards taunted inmates that everyone thought they were dead and no one was coming for them.

  • Another tactic was threatening executions - soldiers were told that they would be shot

  • immediately if they didn't answer questions.

  • Six inmates died at the camp, leading to the commander eventually being brought up on war

  • crimes charges after the war.

  • Zamperini spent over a year at Ofuna, but his fight was far from over.

  • He would be shuffled around to other camps, including Tokyo's Omori, before being sent

  • to his final destination - Naoetsu, a brutal camp in northern Japan.

  • At these two camps, he would meet one of his most implacable enemies - the cruel prison

  • guard Mutsuhiro Watanabe.

  • This notorious Imperial Japanese soldier was nicknamedThe Bird”, and he was famous

  • for the brutal beatings he dealt out to prisoners of war.

  • Unlike other guards, he didn't seem to care if the people he abused made it out alive

  • - even practicing his judo moves on a man who had just undergone an appendectomy.

  • Zamperini was famous - and that was about to come back to haunt him.

  • As an Olympic hero, Zamperini had high value to his captors, and Watanabe intended to use

  • him.

  • He wanted Zamperini to broadcast a propaganda message condemning the American war effort.

  • When Zamperini refused, Watanabe ordered every prisoner in the camp to take turns beating

  • him.

  • Zamperini thought he was free of his tormentor when he was transferred - but the implacable

  • Watanabe had been promoted to a higher position at Naoetsu, and his torment continued.

  • As the war dragged on, The Bird's tortures escalated.

  • The sadistic commander enjoyed having a celebrity under his control, and the torture often resembled

  • a game.

  • Once, he forced the weak and malnourished Louis to race against a camp guard, beating

  • him for losing.

  • Late in the war, he punished him by forcing him to hold a heavy beam over his head, threatening

  • to shoot him if he dropped it.

  • But Louis didn't drop it.

  • He didn't break, staring straight ahead at Watanabe until the mad guard lost his mind,

  • attacking his prisoner and beating him viciously.

  • But Zamperini found some light in the darkness.

  • Many other officers were held at the camp, including the famous war hero GregPappy

  • Boyington, and the captives developed a sense of camaraderie.

  • They would talk about what they missed back home, and Zamperini became a popular figure

  • for his tales of his family's old-school Italian recipes.

  • The men were able to keep their spirits strong as they continued to hope for rescue.

  • And in 1945, it was right around the corner.

  • American planes soared overhead, and the guards scattered.

  • Zamperini briefly tried to seek out Watanabe for revenge, but his tormenter had already

  • fled the camp.

  • And more than a year after he had been declared dead, Louis Zamperini returned to life, being

  • flown back to the United States to the shock of a grateful nation - including his grieving

  • parents, who had been told their son was lost over the Pacific.

  • Louis Zamperini's war was over, but he still had battles to fight.

  • He recovered from his injuries, but was haunted by the torments he experienced.

  • The 47 days he battled to survive on the open sea, and the tortures The Bird and other guards

  • inflicted on him, haunted him long after the war.

  • He found himself having dark nightmares, fantasizing about strangling his captors, and took to

  • alcohol to dull his pain.

  • But while he was troubled, he wasn't alone - not anymore.

  • He had married Cynthia Applewhite only a year after the war, and she was determined to not

  • let him sink into despair.

  • He found hope in an unexpected place.

  • Zamperini, now a father of two, was encouraged by his wife to join her at the religious events

  • hosted by the famous preacher Billy Graham.

  • He had spent a long time praying during his captivity, and these meetings helped him rediscover

  • his faith and let go of his anger.

  • His nightmares slowly went away, and Zamperini found a new purpose.

  • He became an evangelist himself, preaching forgiveness, and even went to visit many of

  • the guards who were involved in his captivity.

  • One piece of closure, though, would elude him.

  • Watanabe was originally charged with war crimes for his abuse of prisoners, but went into

  • hiding and was able to avoid capture.

  • The charges were dropped in 1952, and Watanabe remained completely unrepentant for the rest

  • of his life.

  • Almost five decades later, when Zamperini returned to Japan to carry the Olympic torch,

  • he asked to meet with Watanabe to forgive him.

  • But Watanabe had no regrets about his treatment of Japan's enemies, and refused to meet

  • the American war hero.

  • But this rejection didn't stop Zamperini from living well.

  • He published a memoir, titled Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience,

  • and Redemption, which succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.

  • It spent four years on the New York Times best-seller list and a shocking fourteen weeks

  • at number one.

  • And soon, Hollywood came calling.

  • Angelina Jolie directed, the Coen brothers helped write the screenplay, and Jack O'Connell

  • starred as Louis Zamperini's story came to the big screen - followed by a sequel that

  • chronicled his religious journey.

  • As for Zamperini himself, he enjoyed fifty-five years of marriage before his wife passed away,

  • and lived to the age of 97.

  • His death in 2014 came seventy years after he was first declared dead in World War II

  • - one more record he set before he went to his reward, for outrunning the grim reaper

  • for seven decades.

  • For the story of another of America's greatest war heroes, check outThe Insanely Crazy

  • Story of a Tiny Soldier”, or watch this video instead.

He was one of the fastest men alive, who made it from a humble beginning to the Olympics.

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Soldier Surviving 4 Months at Sea - Miracle on the Pacific

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