Posts Tagged ‘World War II’

Stuck for a Z topic, the Daughter said, “How about Louis Zamperini?” Of course. She read parts of Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (2010), a biography of Zamperini by Laura Hillenbrand, for her English class.

Louis, born on January 26, 1917 in Olean, NY to Italian immigrant parents, grew up a troublemaker in Torrance, California. As a child, he was smoking and drinking, stealing and fighting. Trying to impress some high school girls, he joined the school’s track team, and ended up breaking a national high school record, running the mile in only 4 minutes, 21 seconds.

Zamperini competed in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, and even met Adolf Hitler at the 1936 Olympics. He didn’t medal, though he seemed like a sure bet for the 1940 team, but the games were called off because of World War II.

Louis Zamperini enlisted in the Army Air Corps in September 1941, cheating death several times as a B-24 bombardier. His missions included a famous December 1942 air raid on Wake Island. .

On May 27, 1943, Zamperini and his crew were participating in a search and rescue mission over the Pacific when their plane suddenly lost power to two of its engines, careening into the sea. Zamperini and two others were the only ones of an 11-man crew to initially survive.

One of the trio, Francis McNamara, perished after 33 days at sea. Zamperini and Russell Allen Phillips drifted for another two weeks before being captured by the Japanese Navy near the Marshall Islands.

Zamperini was tortured daily as a POW. Over the next two years, he also suffered from disease, exposure, and starvation. The Japanese tried to use him as a propaganda tool, but once he agreed to read a message telling his parents he was alive, he refused to cooperate any further.

After the war, he used alcohol to fight the nightmares. Zamperini says he was saved from his post-war trauma after witnessing a sermon by the evangelical preacher Billy Graham in 1949.

In 1950, Zamperini returned to Japan for the first time since his liberation to address some Japanese war criminals. He shook hands and embraced many of his old camp guards. He became an inspirational speaker, and he wrote two memoirs, both titled Devil at My Heels (1956 and 2003).

Zamperini’s remarkable story of survival garnered new attention in 2010 with the Hillenbrand book, which hit #1 on the New York Times best-seller list. Louis became a celebrity all over again when he charmingly made the rounds with Angelina Jolie, who was directing the film Unbroken, based on the book, starring Jack O’Connell as Louis, which was released on Christmas Day 2014.

Louis Zamperini died from pneumonia on July 2, 2014.

There’s a movie sequel to Unbroken, Path To Redemption (2017), with Samuel Hunt as Zamperini and Will Graham playing his grandfather, Billy Graham.

For ABC Wednesday

I was thrilled by a pair of events addressing the historic Japan-United States enmity of the 1940s.

In May 2016, then-President Barack Obama visited Hiroshima, the first American commander-in-chief to do so since the US dropped an atomic bomb on the city over 70 years earlier.

While criticized by those on the left and the right, I thought it was an important gesture. “As he promised, the president did not apologize for the U.S. bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, which killed an estimated 215,000 people. He laid a wreath at Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima and embraced a 91-year-old survivor of the nuclear attack.”

During his 20-minute remarks, “Obama said, ‘Why do we come to this place, to Hiroshima? We come to ponder the terrible forces unleashed in the not so distant past. We come to mourn the dead … their souls speak to us and ask us to look inward. To take stock of who we are and what we might become.’

“In the Hiroshima museum’s guest book before his speech, the President wrote that he hoped the world will ‘find the courage, together, to spread peace, and pursue a world without nuclear weapons.’‎” Most of the elderly survivors, I imagine, did not foresee an American President in their midst, in that place.

Then, in December 2016, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe offered his condolences for his country’s attack on Pearl Harbor. “‘We must never repeat the horrors of war again, this is the solemn vow the people of Japan have taken,” he said. The Prime Minister was accompanied by President Obama, making the visit the first by the leaders of both countries.

“Mr. Abe paid tribute to the [2,400] men who lost their lives in 1941 at the naval base, many of whom remain entombed in the wreckage of the USS Arizona, sunk by the Japanese that day, and vowed reconciliation and peace.

How did this come about?

“Just as was the case when Obama visited Hiroshima earlier in the year—as the first sitting U.S. President to go to the site of the atomic bombing—the visit by Abe comes after many years of debate in the U.S., Japan and elsewhere about how the two nations should come to terms with the legacy of World War II.”

Mr. Abe never actually apologized, but as one elderly Pearl Harbor survivor noted, the Prime Minister’s presence was even more important.

HiroshimaRuinsLargeMy sixth grade teacher, Paul Peca, who died four years ago, believed that the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan on August 6 and 9, 1945, respectively, was necessary in order to end World War II in the Pacific.

He said, and the conventional wisdom supported the claim, that the kamikaze fighters were doing severe damage to the Allied troops and that the war needed to end quickly.

Regardless, I was never convinced that the United States should be the first country to drop the bomb. The sheer devastation, not just immediately but in the aftermath, troubled me.

On this issue, I was affected greatly by two pieces from the arts. One was the 1983 documentary Atomic Cafe. “Disturbing collection of 1940s and 1950s United States government issued propaganda films designed to reassure Americans that the atomic bomb was not a threat to their safety.” It reviewed quite well.
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2015.blocksOf course, no one knows what will happen in the year 2015 except that we’ll celebrate anniversaries of past events.

Back in 1965, fifty years ago, the brilliant music satirist Tom Lehrer, in the introduction to So Long Mom, a song of World War III, said this: “This year we’ve been celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the Civil War and the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of World War I and the twentieth anniversary of the end of World War II. All in all it’s been a good year for the war buffs.” (With a different intro, LISTEN to So Long Mom.)

This being a half century later, we just “celebrated” the beginning of World War I. 2015 will be the sesquicentennial of the end of the American Civil War in 1865 Read the rest of this entry »

dday.kn17825As D-Day approaches, all I can think about are 90-year-old men who saw awful things, but sucked it up to get through the events, and then stoically never talked about them. That is until 50 or 60 or 70 years later – goaded by family members or in recognition of their own mortality, as at least 600 WWII vets die EVERY DAY in the US – they start telling their stories. And while unique, they are the same story Read the rest of this entry »

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