Son of Italian immigrants, Louis Silvie Zamperini was born in Olean, NY and moved to Torance, CA.
He won a a scholarship to USC and participated in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin as a 5,000m runner and finished eight. Two years later in 1938, Zamperini set a national collegiate mile record which held for 15 years. He was nicknamed the "Torrance Tornado".
Zamperini joined the U. S. Army Air Force
and was assigned to the 11th Bombardment Group, 42nd Bombardment Squadron as a bombardier.
On April 20, 1943 Zamperini flew was bombardier aboard B-24D "Super Man" 41-23938 on a mission to photograph and bomb the phosphate works on Nauru. Over the target, the bomber was damaged by anti-aircraft fire and A6M Zeros and several 20mm cannon shells impacted the fuselage. Afterwards, bomber returned to Funafuti Airfield safely and Zamperini was photographed inspecting the damage.
On May 27, 1943 took off as bombardier aboard B-24D "Green Hornet" 41-24212 on a search mission bound for Palmyra Airfield to refuel after the search. Over the search area, there was cloud cover down to 1,000' and the bomber dove to 800' to effectively search. During the mission, the no. 1 engine experienced problems and died. The engineer accidentally feathered the No. 2 engine, and the bomber quickly angled to the left and crashed into the Pacific Ocean north of Palmyra. When this B-24 failed to arrive it was reported as Missing In Action (MIA).
Fates of the Crew
Only three survived the crash: Philips, Zamperini and
McNamara. During the crash, Zamperini managed to grab the life raft and deploy it. Philips sustained a head injury during the crash. McNamera survived 33 days at sea then died. The survivors said a prayer and buried him at sea. While in the raft, they survived a storm, strafing by a Japanese bomber and survived by catching and eating two albatross birds.
After 47 days at sea, Zamperini and Phillips were found by a Japanese fishing vessel. When captured, Zamperini weighted
79.5 pounds, down from his normal weight of 160. Both were transported to Maleolap arriving on July 14, 1943 and were detained by the Japanese Navy and became Prisoner Of War (POW).
On July 16, 1943 both were transported to Kwajalein and were detained for 43 days in a solitary confinement without any medical treatment in a cell that was approximately 2' 3" wide by 6' long and 7' tall and was fed a small rice ball three times a day and occasionally soup. During captivity, both prisoners contracted dengue fever, dysentery, diarrhea and malnutrition but did not receive any medical treatment. About four or five times, both prisoners were injected with the juice from a coconut intravenously while a group of Japanese watched. Both experienced pins and needles and broke out into hives. The prisoners were tormented by their guards and Zamperini was often threatened by a guard armed with a pistol and told to dance. While detained, Zamperini continued to weigh only 80 pounds.
On August 27, 1943 Zamperini and Phillips were transported Japan and interned at Ofuna POW Camp. During 1945, transported to Naoetsu POW Camp until the end of the Pacific War.
In the 1960s, Torance Airport was renamed "Zamperini Field" in his honor. On July 2, 2014 Zamperini passed away and was cremated. He does not have any grave or memorial marker.
Missing Air Crew Report 16163 (MACR 16163) incorrectly lists the aircraft type as a "B-17" and does not list the serial number of the aircraft
Affidavit Louis Silvie Zamperini, November 1945
NARA Prisoners of War Data File - Louis Zamperini
Devil At My Heels by Louis Zamperini
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand tells the life story of Louis Zamperini
FindAGrave - Louis Silvie Zamperini (photo)