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Unbroken / (by Laura Hillenbrand, 2010) -

Unbroken /  (by Laura Hillenbrand, 2010) -

Unbroken / (by Laura Hillenbrand, 2010) -

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Unbroken / (by Laura Hillenbrand, 2010) -
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2010
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Laura Hillenbrand
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Edward Herrmann
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upper-intermediate
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12:57:29
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128 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

Unbroken / :

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What stays with you latest and deepest? of curious panics, Of hard-fought engagements or sieges tremendous what deepest remains? Walt Whitman, The Wound-Dresser PREFACE ALL HE COULD SEE, IN EVERY DIRECTION, WAS WATER. It was June 23, 1943. Somewhere on the endless expanse of the Pacific Ocean, Army Air Forces bombardier and Olympic runner Louie Zamperini lay across a small raft, drifting westward. Slumped alongside him was a sergeant, one of his planes gunners. On a separate raft, tethered to the first, lay another crewman, a gash zigzagging across his forehead. Their bodies, burned by the sun and stained yellow from the raft dye, had winnowed down to skeletons. Sharks glided in lazy loops around them, dragging their backs along the rafts, waiting. The men had been adrift for twenty-seven days. Borne by an equatorial current, they had floated at least one thousand miles, deep into Japanese-controlled waters. The rafts were beginning to deteriorate into jelly, and gave off a sour, burning odor. The mens bodies were pocked with salt sores, and their lips were so swollen that they pressed into their nostrils and chins. They spent their days with their eyes fixed on the sky, singing White Christmas, muttering about food. No one was even looking for them anymore. They were alone on sixty-four million square miles of ocean. A month earlier, twenty-six-year-old Zamperini had been one of the greatest runners in the world, expected by many to be the first to break the four-minute mile, one of the most celebrated barriers in sport. Now his Olympians body had wasted to less than one hundred pounds and his famous legs could no longer lift him. Almost everyone outside of his family had given him up for dead. On that morning of the twenty-seventh day, the men heard a distant, deep strumming. Every airman knew that sound: pistons. Their eyes caught a glint in the skya plane, high overhead. Zamperini fired two flares and shook powdered dye into the water, enveloping the rafts in a circle of vivid orange. The plane kept going, slowly disappearing. The men sagged. Then the sound returned, and the plane came back into view. The crew had seen them. With arms shrunken to little more than bone and yellowed skin, the castaways waved and shouted, their voices thin from thirst. The plane dropped low and swept alongside the rafts. Zamperini saw the profiles of the crewmen, dark against bright blueness. There was a terrific roaring sound. The water, and the rafts themselves, seemed to boil. It was machine gun fire. This was not an American rescue plane. It was a Japanese bomber. The men pitched themselves into the water and hung together under the rafts, cringing as bullets punched through the rubber and sliced effervescent lines in the water around their faces. The firing blazed on, then sputtered out as the bomber overshot them. The men dragged themselves back onto the one raft that was still mostly inflated. The bomber banked sideways, circling toward them again. As it leveled off, Zamperini could see the muzzles of the machine guns, aimed directly at them. Zamperini looked toward his crewmates. They were too weak to go back in the water. As they lay down on the floor of the raft, hands over their heads, Zamperini splashed overboard alone. Somewhere beneath him, the sharks were done waiting. They bent their bodies in the water and swam toward the man under the raft. Courtesy of Louis Zamperini. Photo of original image by John Brodkin. One The One-Boy Insurgency IN THE PREDAWN DARKNESS OF AUGUST 26, 1929, IN THE back bedroom of a small house in Torrance, California, a twelve-year-old boy sat up in bed, listening. There was a sound coming from outside, growing ever louder. It was a huge, heavy rush, suggesting immensity, a great parting of air. It was coming from directly above the house. The boy swung his legs off his bed, raced down the stairs, slapped open the back door, and loped onto the grass. The yard was otherworldly, smothered in unnatural darkness, shivering with sound. The boy stood on the lawn beside his older brother, head thrown back, spellbound. The sky had disappeared. An object that he could see only in silhouette, reaching across a massive arc of space, was suspended low in the air over the house. It was longer than two and a half football fields and as tall as a city. It was putting out the stars. What he saw was the German dirigible Graf Zeppelin. At nearly 800 feet long and 110 feet high, it was the largest flying machine ever crafted. More luxurious than the finest airplane, gliding effortlessly over huge distances, built on a scale that left spectators gasping, it was, in the summer of 29, the wonder of the world. The airship was three days from completing a sensational feat of aeronautics, circumnavigation of the globe. The journey had begun on August 7, when the Zeppelin had slipped its tethers in Lakehurst, New Jersey, lifted up with a long, slow sigh, and headed for Manhattan. On Fifth Avenue that summer, demolition was soon to begin on the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, clearing the way for a skyscraper of unprecedented proportions, the Empire State Building. At Yankee Stadium, in the Bronx, players were debuting numbered uniforms: Lou Gehrig wore No. 4; Babe Ruth, about to hit his five hundredth home run, wore No. 3. On Wall Street, stock prices were racing toward an all-time high. After a slow glide around the Statue of Liberty, the Zeppelin banked north, then turned out over the Atlantic. In time, land came below again: France, Switzerland, Germany. The ship passed over Nuremberg, where fringe politician Adolf Hitler, whose Nazi Party had been trounced in the 1928 elections, had just delivered a speech touting selective infanticide. Then it flew east of Frankfurt, where a Jewish woman named Edith Frank was caring for her newborn, a girl named Anne. Sailing northeast, the Zeppelin crossed over Russia. Siberian villagers, so isolated that theyd never even seen a train, fell to their knees at the sight of it. On August 19, as some four million Japanese waved handkerchiefs and shouted Banzai! the Zeppelin circled Tokyo and sank onto a landing field. Four days later, as the German and Japanese anthems played, the ship rose into the grasp of a typhoon that whisked it over the Pacific at breathtaking speed, toward America. Passengers gazing from the windows saw only the ships shadow, following it along the clouds like a huge shark swimming alongside. When the clouds parted, the passengers glimpsed giant creatures, turning in the sea, that looked like monsters. On August 25, the Zeppelin reached San Francisco. After being cheered down the California coast, it slid through sunset, into darkness and silence, and across midnight. As slow as the drifting wind, it passed over Torrance, where its only audience was a scattering of drowsy souls, among them the boy in his pajamas behind the house on Gramercy Avenue. Standing under the airship, his feet bare in the grass, he was transfixed. It was, he would say, fearfully beautiful. He could feel the rumble of the crafts engines tilling the air but couldnt make out the silver skin, the sweeping ribs, the finned tail. He could see only the blackness of the space it inhabited. It was not a great presence but a great absence, a geometric ocean of darkness that seemed to swallow heaven itself. The boys name was Louis Silvie Zamperini. The son of Italian immigrants, he had come into the world in Olean, New York, on January 26, 1917, eleven and a half pounds of baby under black hair as coarse as barbed wire. His father, Anthony, had been living on his own since age fourteen, first as a coal miner and boxer, then as a construction worker. His mother, Louise, was a petite, playful beauty, sixteen at marriage and eighteen when Louie was born. In their apartment, where only Italian was spoken, Louise and Anthony called their boy Toots. From the moment he could walk, Louie couldnt bear to be corralled. His siblings would recall him careening about, hurdling flora, fauna, and furniture. The instant Louise thumped him into a chair and told him to be still, he vanished. If she didnt have her squirming boy clutched in her hands, she usually had no idea where he was. In 1919, when two-year-old Louie was down with pneumonia, he climbed out his bedroom window, descended one story, and went on a naked tear down the street with a policeman chasing him and a crowd watching in amazement. Soon after, on a pediatricians advice, Louise and Anthony decided to move their children to the warmer climes of California. Sometime after their train pulled out of Grand Central Station, Louie bolted, ran the length of the train, and leapt from the caboose. Standing with his frantic mother as the train rolled backward in search of the lost boy, Louies older brother, Pete, spotted Louie strolling up the track in perfect serenity. Swept up in his mothers arms, Louie smiled. I knew youd come back, he said in Italian. In California, Anthony landed a job as a railway electrician and bought a half-acre field on the edge of Torrance, population 1,800. He and Louise hammered up a one-room shack with no running water, an outhouse behind, and a roof that leaked so badly that they had to keep buckets on the beds. With only hook latches for locks, Louise took to sitting by the front door on an apple box with a rolling pin in her hand, ready to brain any prowlers who might threaten her children. There, and at the Gramercy Avenue house where they settled a year later, Louise kept prowlers out, but couldnt keep Louie in hand. Contesting a footrace across a busy highway, he just missed getting broadsided by a jalopy. At five, he started smoking, picking up discarded cigarette butts while walking to kindergarten. He began drinking one night when he was eight; he hid under the dinner table, snatched glasses of wine, drank them all dry, staggered outside, and fell into a rosebush. On one day, Louise discovered that Louie had impaled his leg on a bamboo beam; on another, she had to ask a neighbor to sew Louies severed toe back on. When Louie came home drenched in oil after scaling an oil rig, diving into a sump well, and nearly drowning, it took a gallon of turpentine and a lot of scrubbing before Anthony recognized his son again. Thrilled by the crashing of boundaries, Louie was untamable. As he grew into his uncommonly clever mind, mere feats of daring were no longer satisfying. In Torrance, a one-boy insurgency was born. If it was edible, Louie stole it. He skulked down alleys, a roll of lock-picking wire in his pocket. Housewives who stepped from their kitchens would return to find that their suppers had disappeared. Residents looking out their back windows might catch a glimpse of a long-legged boy dashing down the alley, a whole cake balanced on his hands. When a local family left Louie off their dinner-party guest list, he broke into their house, bribed their Great Dane with a bone, and cleaned out their icebox. At another party, he absconded with an entire keg of beer. When he discovered that the cooling tables at Meinzers Bakery stood within an arms length of the back door, he began picking the lock, snatching pies, eating until he was full, and reserving the rest as ammunition for ambushes. When rival thieves took up the racket, he suspended the stealing until the culprits were caught and the bakery owners dropped their guard. Then he ordered his friends to rob Meinzers again. It is a testament to the content of Louies childhood that his stories about it usually ended with and then I ran like mad. He was often chased by people he had robbed, and at least two people threatened to shoot him. To minimize the evidence found on him when the police habitually came his way, he set up loot-stashing sites around town, including a three-seater cave that he dug in a nearby forest. Under the Torrance High bleachers, Pete once found a stolen wine jug that Louie had hidden there. It was teeming with inebriated ants. In the lobby of the Torrance theater, Louie stopped up the pay telephones coin slots with toilet paper. He returned regularly to feed wire behind the coins stacked up inside, hook the paper, and fill his palms with change. A metal dealer never guessed that the grinning Italian kid who often came by to sell him armfuls of copper scrap had stolen the same scrap from his lot the night before. Discovering, while scuffling with an enemy at a circus, that adults would give quarters to fighting kids to pacify them, Louie declared a truce with the enemy and they cruised around staging brawls before strangers. To get even with a railcar conductor who wouldnt stop for him, Louie greased the rails. When a teacher made him stand in a corner for spitballing, he deflated her car tires with toothpicks. After setting a legitimate Boy Scout state record in friction-fire ignition, he broke his record by soaking his tinder in gasoline and mixing it with match heads, causing a small explosion. He stole a neighbors coffee percolator tube, set up a snipers nest in a tree, crammed pepper-tree berries into his mouth, spat them through the tube, and sent the neighborhood girls running. His magnum opus became legend. Late one night, Louie climbed the steeple of a Baptist church, rigged the bell with piano wire, strung the wire into a nearby tree, and roused the police, the fire department, and all of Torrance with apparently spontaneous pealing. The more credulous townsfolk called it a sign from God. Only one thing scared him. When Louie was in late boyhood, a pilot landed a plane near Torrance and took Louie up for a flight. One might have expected such an intrepid child to be ecstatic, but the speed and altitude frightened him. From that day on, he wanted nothing to do with airplanes. In a childhood of artful dodging, Louie made more than just mischief. He shaped who he would be in manhood. Confident that he was clever, resourceful, and bold enough to escape any predicament, he was almost incapable of discouragement. When history carried him into war, this resilient optimism would define him. Louie was twenty months younger than his brother, who was everything he was not. Pete Zamperini was handsome, popular, impeccably groomed, polite to elders and avuncular to juniors, silky smooth with girls, and blessed with such sound judgment that even when he was a child, his parents consulted him on difficult decisions. He ushered his mother into her seat at dinner, turned in at seven, and tucked his alarm clock under his pillow so as not to wake Louie, with whom he shared a bed. He rose at two-thirty to run a three-hour paper route, and deposited all his earnings in the bank, which would swallow every penny when the Depression hit. He had a lovely singing voice and a gallant habit of carrying pins in his pant cuffs, in case his dance partners dress strap failed. He once saved a girl from drowning. Pete radiated a gentle but impressive authority that led everyone he met, even adults, to be swayed by his opinion. Even Louie, who made a religion out of heeding no one, did as Pete said. Louie idolized Pete, who watched over him and their younger sisters, Sylvia and Virginia, with paternal protectiveness. But Louie was eclipsed, and he never heard the end of it. Sylvia would recall her mother tearfully telling Louie how she wished he could be more like Pete. What made it more galling was that Petes reputation was part myth. Though Pete earned grades little better than Louies failing ones, his principal assumed that he was a straight-A student. On the night of Torrances church bell miracle, a well-directed flashlight would have revealed Petes legs dangling from the tree alongside Louies. And Louie wasnt always the only Zamperini boy who could be seen sprinting down the alley with food that had lately belonged to the neighbors. But it never occurred to anyone to suspect Pete of anything. Pete never got caught, said Sylvia. Louie always got caught. Nothing about Louie fit with other kids. He was a puny boy, and in his first years in Torrance, his lungs were still compromised enough from the pneumonia that in picnic footraces, every girl in town could dust him. His features, which would later settle into pleasant collaboration, were growing at different rates, giving him a curious face that seemed designed by committee. His ears leaned sidelong off his head like holstered pistols, and above them waved a calamity of black hair that mortified him. He attacked it with his aunt Margies hot iron, hobbled it in a silk stocking every night, and slathered it with so much olive oil that flies trailed him to school. It did no good. And then there was his ethnicity. In Torrance in the early 1920s, Italians were held in such disdain that when the Zamperinis arrived, the neighbors petitioned the city council to keep them out. Louie, who knew only a smattering of English until he was in grade school, couldnt hide his pedigree. He survived kindergarten by keeping mum, but in first grade, when he blurted out Brutte bastarde! at another kid, his teachers caught on. They compounded his misery by holding him back a grade. He was a marked boy. Bullies, drawn by his oddity and hoping to goad him into uttering Italian curses, pelted him with rocks, taunted him, punched him, and kicked him. He tried buying their mercy with his lunch, but they pummeled him anyway, leaving him bloody. He could have ended the beatings by running away or succumbing to tears, but he refused to do either. You could beat him to death, said Sylvia, and he wouldnt say ouch or cry. He just put his hands in front of his face and took it. As Louie neared his teens, he took a hard turn. Aloof and bristling, he lurked around the edges of Torrance, his only friendships forged loosely with rough boys who followed his lead. He became so germophobic that he wouldnt tolerate anyone coming near his food. Though he could be a sweet boy, he was often short-tempered and obstreperous. He feigned toughness, but was secretly tormented. Kids passing into parties would see him lingering outside, unable to work up the courage to walk in. Frustrated at his inability to defend himself, he made a study of it. His father taught him how to work a punching bag and made him a barbell from two lead-filled coffee cans welded to a pipe. The next time a bully came at Louie, he ducked left and swung his right fist straight into the boys mouth. The bully shrieked, his tooth broken, and fled. The feeling of lightness that Louie experienced on his walk home was one he would never forget. Over time, Louies temper grew wilder, his fuse shorter, his skills sharper. He socked a girl. He pushed a teacher. He pelted a policeman with rotten tomatoes. Kids who crossed him wound up with fat lips, and bullies learned to give him a wide berth. He once came upon Pete in their front yard, in a standoff with another boy. Both boys had their fists in front of their chins, each waiting for the other to swing. Louie cant stand it, remembered Pete. Hes standing there, Hit him, Pete! Hit him, Pete! Im waiting there, and all of a sudden Louie turns around and smacks this guy right in the gut. And then he runs! Anthony Zamperini was at his wits end. The police always seemed to be on the front porch, trying to talk sense into Louie. There were neighbors to be apologized to and damages to be compensated for with money that Anthony couldnt spare. Adoring his son but exasperated by his behavior, Anthony delivered frequent, forceful spankings. Once, after hed caught Louie wiggling through a window in the middle of the night, he delivered a kick to the rear so forceful that it lifted Louie off the floor. Louie absorbed the punishment in tearless silence, then committed the same crimes again, just to show he could. Louies mother, Louise, took a different tack. Louie was a copy of herself, right down to the vivid blue eyes. When pushed, she shoved; sold a bad cut of meat, shed march down to the butcher, frying pan in hand. Loving mischief, she spread icing over a cardboard box and presented it as a birthday cake to a neighbor, who promptly got the knife stuck. When Pete told her hed drink his castor oil if she gave him a box of candy, she agreed, watched him drink it, then handed him an empty candy box. You only asked for the box, honey, she said with a smile. Thats all I got. And she understood Louies restiveness. One Halloween, she dressed as a boy and raced around town trick-or-treating with Louie and Pete. A gang of kids, thinking she was one of the local toughs, tackled her and tried to steal her pants. Little Louise Zamperini, mother of four, was deep in the melee when the cops picked her up for brawling. Knowing that punishing Louie would only provoke his defiance, Louise took a surreptitious route toward reforming him. In search of an informant, she worked over Louies schoolmates with homemade pie and turned up a soft boy named Hugh, whose sweet tooth was Louies undoing. Louise suddenly knew everything Louie was up to, and her children wondered if she had developed psychic powers. Sure that Sylvia was snitching, Louie refused to sit at the supper table with her, eating his meals in spiteful solitude off the open oven door. He once became so enraged with her that he chased her around the block. Outrunning Louie for the only time in her life, Sylvia cut down the alley and dove into her fathers work shed. Louie flushed her out by feeding his three-foot-long pet snake into the crawl space. She then locked herself in the family car and didnt come out for an entire afternoon. It was a matter of life and death, she said some seventy-five years later. For all her efforts, Louise couldnt change Louie. He ran away and wandered around San Diego for days, sleeping under a highway overpass. He tried to ride a steer in a pasture, got tossed onto the ragged edge of a fallen tree, and limped home with his gashed knee bound in a handkerchief. Twenty-seven stitches didnt tame him. He hit one kid so hard that he broke his nose. He upended another boy and stuffed paper towels in his mouth. Parents forbade their kids from going near him. A farmer, furious over Louies robberies, loaded his shotgun with rock salt and blasted him in the tail. Louie beat one kid so badly, leaving him unconscious in a ditch, that he was afraid hed killed him. When Louise saw the blood on Louies fists, she burst into tears. As Louie prepared to start Torrance High, he was looking less like an impish kid and more like a dangerous young man. High school would be the end of his education. There was no money for college; Anthonys paycheck ran out before the weeks end, forcing Louise to improvise meals out of eggplant, milk, stale bread, wild mushrooms, and rabbits that Louie and Pete shot in the fields. With flunking grades and no skills, Louie had no chance for a scholarship. It was unlikely that he could land a job. The Depression had come, and the unemployment rate was nearing 25 percent. Louie had no real ambitions. If asked what he wanted to be, his answer would have been cowboy. In the 1930s, America was infatuated with the pseudoscience of eugenics and its promise of strengthening the human race by culling the unfit from the genetic pool. Along with the feebleminded, insane, and criminal, those so classified included women who had sex out of wedlock (considered a mental illness), orphans, the disabled, the poor, the homeless, epileptics, masturbators, the blind and the deaf, alcoholics, and girls whose genitals exceeded certain measurements. Some eugenicists advocated euthanasia, and in mental hospitals, this was quietly carried out on scores of people through lethal neglect or outright murder. At one Illinois mental hospital, new patients were dosed with milk from cows infected with tuberculosis, in the belief that only the undesirable would perish. As many as four in ten of these patients died. A more popular tool of eugenics was forced sterilization, employed on a raft of lost souls who, through misbehavior or misfortune, fell into the hands of state governments. By 1930, when Louie was entering his teens, California was enraptured with eugenics, and would ultimately sterilize some twenty thousand people. When Louie was in his early teens, an event in Torrance brought reality home. A kid from Louies neighborhood was deemed feebleminded, institutionalized, and barely saved from sterilization through a frantic legal effort by his parents, funded by their Torrance neighbors. Tutored by Louies siblings, the boy earned straight As. Louie was never more than an inch from juvenile hall or jail, and as a serial troublemaker, a failing student, and a suspect Italian, he was just the sort of rogue that eugenicists wanted to cull. Suddenly understanding what he was risking, he felt deeply shaken. The person that Louie had become was not, he knew, his authentic self. He made hesitant efforts to connect to others. He scrubbed the kitchen floor to surprise his mother, but she assumed that Pete had done it. While his father was out of town, Louie overhauled the engine on the familys Marmon Roosevelt Straight-8 sedan. He baked biscuits and gave them away; when his mother, tired of the mess, booted him from her kitchen, he resumed baking in a neighbors house. He doled out nearly everything he stole. He was bighearted, said Pete. Louie would give away anything, whether it was his or not. Each attempt he made to right himself ended wrong. He holed up alone, reading Zane Grey novels and wishing himself into them, a man and his horse on the frontier, broken off from the world. He haunted the theater for western movies, losing track of the plots while he stared at the scenery. On some nights, hed drag his bedding into the yard to sleep alone. On others, hed lie awake in bed, beneath pinups of movie cowboy Tom Mix and his wonder horse, Tony, feeling snared on something from which he couldnt kick free. In the back bedroom he could hear trains passing. Lying beside his sleeping brother, hed listen to the broad, low sound: faint, then rising, faint again, then a high, beckoning whistle, then gone. The sound of it brought goose bumps. Lost in longing, Louie imagined himself on a train, rolling into country he couldnt see, growing smaller and more distant until he disappeared. Two Run Like Mad THE REHABILITATION OF LOUIE ZAMPERINI BEGAN IN 1931, with a key. Fourteen-year-old Louie was in a locksmith shop when he heard someone say that if you put any key in any lock, it has a one-in-fifty chance of fitting. Inspired, Louie began collecting keys and trying locks. He had no luck until he tried his house key on the back door of the Torrance High gym. When basketball season began, there was an inexplicable discrepancy between the number of ten-cent tickets sold and the considerably larger number of kids in the bleachers. In late 1931, someone caught on, and Louie was hauled to the principals office for the umpteenth time. In California, winter-born students entered new grades in January, so Louie was about to start ninth grade. The principal punished him by making him ineligible for athletic and social activities. Louie, who never joined anything, was indifferent. When Pete learned what had happened, he headed straight to the principals office. Though his mother didnt yet speak much English, he towed her along to give his presentation weight. He told the principal that Louie craved attention but had never won it in the form of praise, so he sought it in the form of punishment. If Louie were recognized for doing something right, Pete argued, hed turn his life around. He asked the principal to allow Louie to join a sport. When the principal balked, Pete asked him if he could live with allowing Louie to fail. It was a cheeky thing for a sixteen-year-old to say to his principal, but Pete was the one kid in Torrance who could get away with such a remark, and make it persuasive. Louie was made eligible for athletics for 1932. Pete had big plans for Louie. A senior in 193132, he would graduate with ten varsity letters, including three in basketball and three in baseball. But it was track, in which he earned four varsity letters, tied the school half-mile record, and set its mile record of 5:06, that was his true forte. Looking at Louie, whose getaway speed was his saving grace, Pete thought he saw the same incipient talent. As it turned out, it wasnt Pete who got Louie onto a track for the first time. It was Louies weakness for girls. In February, the ninth-grade girls began assembling a team for an interclass track meet, and in a class with only four boys, Louie was the only male who looked like he could run. The girls worked their charms, and Louie found himself standing on the track, barefoot, for a 660-yard race. When everyone ran, he followed, churning along with jimmying elbows and dropping far behind. As he labored home last, he heard tittering. Gasping and humiliated, he ran straight off the track and hid under the bleachers. The coach muttered something about how that kid belonged anywhere but in a footrace. Hes my brother, Pete replied. From that day on, Pete was all over Louie, forcing him to train, then dragging him to the track to run in a second meet. Urged on by kids in the stands, Louie put in just enough effort to beat one boy and finish third. He hated running, but the applause was intoxicating, and the prospect of more was just enough incentive to keep him marginally compliant. Pete herded him out to train every day and rode his bicycle behind him, whacking him with a stick. Louie dragged his feet, bellyached, and quit at the first sign of fatigue. Pete made him get up and keep going. Louie started winning. At the seasons end, he became the first Torrance kid to make the All City Finals. He finished fifth. Pete had been right about Louies talent. But to Louie, training felt like one more constraint. At night he listened to the whistles of passing trains, and one day in the summer of 32, he couldnt bear it any longer. It began over a chore that Louies father asked him to do. Louie resisted, a spat ensued, and Louie threw some clothes into a bag and stormed toward the front door. His parents ordered him to stay; Louie was beyond persuasion. As he walked out, his mother rushed to the kitchen and emerged with a sandwich wrapped in waxed paper. Louie stuffed it in his bag and left. He was partway down the front walk when he heard his name called. When he turned, there was his father, grim-faced, holding two dollars in his outstretched hand. It was a lot of money for a man whose paycheck didnt bridge the week. Louie took it and walked away. He rounded up a friend, and together they hitchhiked to Los Angeles, broke into a car, and slept on the seats. The next day they jumped a train, climbed onto the roof, and rode north. The trip was a nightmare. The boys got locked in a boxcar so hot that they were soon frantic to escape. Louie found a discarded strip of metal, climbed on his friends shoulders, pried a vent open, squirmed out, and helped his friend out, badly cutting himself in the process. Then they were discovered by the railroad detective, who forced them to jump from the moving train at gunpoint. After several days of walking, getting chased out of orchards and grocery stores where they tried to steal food, they wound up sitting on the ground in a railyard, filthy, bruised, sunburned, and wet, sharing a stolen can of beans. A train rattled past. Louie looked up. I saw beautiful white tablecloths and crystal on the tables, and food, people laughing and enjoying themselves and eating, he said later. And [I was] sitting here shivering, eating a miserable can of beans. He remembered the money in his fathers hand, the fear in his mothers eyes as she offered him a sandwich. He stood up and headed home. When Louie walked into his house, Louise threw her arms around him, inspected him for injuries, led him to the kitchen, and gave him a cookie. Anthony came home, saw Louie, and sank into a chair, his face soft with relief. After dinner, Louie went upstairs, dropped into bed, and whispered his surrender to Pete. In the summer of 1932, Louie did almost nothing but run. On the invitation of a friend, he went to stay at a cabin on the Cahuilla Indian Reservation, in southern Californias high desert. Each morning, he rose with the sun, picked up his rifle, and jogged into the sagebrush. He ran up and down hills, over the desert, through gullies. He chased bands of horses, darting into the swirling herds and trying in vain to snatch a fistful of mane and swing aboard. He swam in a sulfur spring, watched over by Cahuilla women scrubbing clothes on the rocks, and stretched out to dry himself in the sun. On his run back to the cabin each afternoon, he shot a rabbit for supper. Each evening, he climbed atop the cabin and lay back, reading Zane Grey novels. When the sun sank and the words faded, he gazed over the landscape, moved by its beauty, watching it slip from gray to purple before darkness blended land and sky. In the morning he rose to run again. He didnt run from something or to something, not for anyone or in spite of anyone; he ran because it was what his body wished to do. The restiveness, the self-consciousness, and the need to oppose disappeared. All he felt was peace. He came home with a mania for running. All of the effort that hed once put into thieving he threw into track. On Petes instruction, he ran his entire paper route for the Torrance Herald, to and from school, and to the beach and back. He rarely stayed on the sidewalk, veering onto neighbors lawns to hurdle bushes. He gave up drinking and smoking. To expand his lung capacity, he ran to the public pool at Redondo Beach, dove to the bottom, grabbed the drain plug, and just floated there, hanging on a little longer each time. Eventually, he could stay underwater for three minutes and forty-five seconds. People kept jumping in to save him. Louie also found a role model. In the 1930s, track was hugely popular, and its elite performers were household names. Among them was a Kansas University miler named Glenn Cunningham. As a small child, Cunningham had been in a schoolhouse explosion that killed his brother and left Glenn with severe burns on his legs and torso. It was a month and a half before he could sit up, and more time still before he could stand. Unable to straighten his legs, he learned to push himself about by leaning on a chair, his legs floundering. He graduated to the tail of the family mule, and eventually, hanging off the tail of an obliging horse named Paint, he began to run, a gait that initially caused him excruciating pain. Within a few years, he was racing, setting mile records and obliterating his opponents by the length of a homestretch. By 1932, the modest, mild-tempered Cunningham, whose legs and back were covered in a twisting mesh of scars, was becoming a national sensation, soon to be acclaimed as the greatest miler in American history. Louie had his hero. In the fall of 1932, Pete began his studies at Compton, a tuition-free junior college, where he became a star runner. Nearly every afternoon, he commuted home to coach Louie, running alongside him, subduing the jimmying elbows and teaching him strategy. Louie had a rare biomechanical advantage, hips that rolled as he ran; when one leg reached forward, the corresponding hip swung forward with it, giving Louie an exceptionally efficient, seven-foot stride. After watching him from the Torrance High fence, cheerleader Toots Bowersox needed only one word to describe him: Smoooooth. Pete thought that the sprints in which Louie had been running were too short. Hed be a miler, just like Glenn Cunningham. In January 1933, Louie began tenth grade. As he lost his aloof, thorny manner, he was welcomed by the fashionable crowd. They invited him to weenie bakes in front of Kellows Hamburg Stand, where Louie would join ukulele sing-alongs and touch football games played with a knotted towel, contests that inevitably ended with a cheerleader being wedged into a trash can. Capitalizing on his sudden popularity, Louie ran for class president and won, borrowing the speech that Pete had used to win his class presidency at Compton. Best of all, girls suddenly found him dreamy. While walking alone on his sixteenth birthday, Louie was ambushed by a giggling gaggle of cheerleaders. One girl sat on Louie while the rest gave him sixteen whacks on the rear, plus one to grow on. When the school track season began in February, Louie set out to see what training had done for him. His transformation was stunning. Competing in black silk shorts that his mother had sewn from the fabric of a skirt, he won an 880-yard race, breaking the school record, co-held by Pete, by more than two seconds. A week later, he ran a field of milers off their feet, stopping the watches in 5:03, three seconds faster than Petes record. At another meet, he clocked a mile in 4:58. Three weeks later, he set a state record of 4:50.6. By early April, he was down to 4:46; by late April, 4:42. Boy! oh boy! oh boy! read a local paper. Can that guy fly? Yes, this means that Zamperini guy! Almost every week, Louie ran the mile, streaking through the season unbeaten and untested. When he ran out of high school kids to whip, he took on Pete and thirteen other college runners in a two-mile race at Compton. Though he was only sixteen and had never even trained at the distance, he won by fifty yards. Next he tried the two-mile in UCLAs Southern California Cross Country meet. Running so effortlessly that he couldnt feel his feet touching the ground, he took the lead and kept pulling away. At the halfway point, he was an eighth of a mile ahead, and observers began speculating on when the boy in the black shorts was going to collapse. Louie didnt collapse. After he flew past the finish, rewriting the course record, he looked back up the long straightaway. Not one of the other runners was even in view. Louie had won by more than a quarter of a mile. He felt as if he would faint, but it wasnt from the exertion. It was from the realization of what he was. Louie wins the 1933 UCLA Cross Country two-mile race by more than a quarter of a mile. Pete is running up from behind to greet him. Courtesy of Louis Zamperini Three The Torrance Tornado IT HAPPENED EVERY SATURDAY. LOUIE WOULD GO TO THE track, limber up, lie on his stomach on the infield grass, visualizing his coming race, then walk to the line, await the pop of the gun, and spring away. Pete would dash back and forth in the infield, clicking his stopwatch, yelling encouragement and instructions. When Pete gave the signal, Louie would stretch out his long legs and his opponents would scatter and drop away, in the words of a reporter, sadly disheartened and disillusioned. Louie would glide over the line, Pete would be there to tackle him, and the kids in the bleachers would cheer and stomp. Then there would be autograph-seeking girls coming in waves, a ride home, kisses from Mother, and snapshots on the front lawn, trophy in hand. Louie won so many wristwatches, the traditional laurel of track, that he began handing them out all over town. Periodically, a new golden boy would be touted as the one who would take him down, only to be run off his feet. One victim, wrote a reporter, had been hailed as the boy who doesnt know how fast he can run. He found out Saturday. Louies supreme high school moment came in the 1934 Southern California Track and Field Championship. Running in what was celebrated as the best field of high school milers in history, Louie routed them all and smoked the mile in 4:21.3, shattering the national high school record, set during World War I, by more than two seconds.* His main rival so exhausted himself chasing Louie that he had to be carried from the track. As Louie trotted into Petes arms, he felt a tug of regret. He felt too fresh. Had he run his second lap faster, he said, he might have clocked 4:18. A reporter predicted that Louies record would stand for twenty years. It stood for nineteen. Louie and Pete. Bettmann/Corbis Once his hometowns resident archvillain, Louie was now a superstar, and Torrance forgave him everything. When he trained, people lined the track fence, calling out, Come on, Iron Man! The sports pages of the Los Angeles Times and Examiner were striped with stories on the prodigy, whom the Times called the Torrance Tempest and practically everyone else called the Torrance Tornado. By one report, stories on Louie were such an important source of revenue to the Torrance Herald that the newspaper insured his legs for $50,000. Torrancers carpooled to his races and crammed the grandstands. Embarrassed by the fuss, Louie asked his parents not to watch him race. Louise came anyway, sneaking to the track to peer through the fence, but the races made her so nervous that she had to hide her eyes. Not long ago, Louies aspirations had ended at whose kitchen he might burgle. Now he latched onto a wildly audacious goal: the 1936 Olympics, in Berlin. The Games had no mile race, so milers ran the 1,500 meters, about 120 yards short of a mile. It was a seasoned mans game; most top milers of the era peaked in their mid-twenties or later. As of 1934, the Olympic 1,500-meter favorite was Glenn Cunningham, whod set the world record in the mile, 4:06.8, just weeks after Louie set the national high school record. Cunningham had been racing since the fourth grade, and at the 1936 Games, he would be just short of twenty-seven. He wouldnt run his fastest mile until he was twenty-eight. As of 1936, Louie would have only five years experience, and would be only nineteen. But Louie was already the fastest high school miler in American history, and he was improving so rapidly that he had lopped forty-two seconds off his time in two years. His record mile, run when he was seventeen, was three and a half seconds faster than Cunninghams fastest high school mile, run when he was twenty.* Even conservative track pundits were beginning to think that Louie might be the one to shatter precedent, and after Louie won every race in his senior season, their confidence was strengthened. Louie believed he could do it, and so did Pete. Louie wanted to run in Berlin more than he had ever wanted anything. In December 1935, Louie graduated from high school; a few weeks later, he rang in 1936 with his thoughts full of Berlin. The Olympic trials track finals would be held in New York in July, and the Olympic committee would base its selection of competitors on a series of qualifying races. Louie had seven months to run himself onto the team. In the meantime, he also had to figure out what to do about the numerous college scholarships being offered to him. Pete had won a scholarship to the University of Southern California, where he had become one of the nations top ten college milers. He urged Louie to accept USCs offer but delay entry until the fall, so he could train full-time. So Louie moved into Petes frat house and, with Pete coaching him, trained obsessively. All day, every day, he lived and breathed the 1,500 meters and Berlin. In the spring, he began to realize that he wasnt going to make it. Though he was getting faster by the day, he couldnt force his body to improve quickly enough to catch his older rivals by summer. He was simply too young. He was heartbroken. In May, Louie was leafing through a newspaper when he saw a story on the Compton Open, a prestigious track meet to be held at the Los Angeles Coliseum on May 22. The headliner in the 5,000 metersthree miles and 188 yardswas Norman Bright, a twenty-six-year-old schoolteacher. Bright had set the American two-mile record in 1935 and was Americas second-fastest 5,000-meter man, behind the legendary Don Lash, Indiana Universitys twenty-three-year-old record-smashing machine. America would send three 5,000-meter men to Berlin, and Lash and Bright were considered locks. Pete urged Louie to enter the Compton Open and try his legs at a longer distance. If you stay with Norman Bright, he told Louie, you make the Olympic team. The idea was a stretch. The mile was four laps of the track; the 5,000 was more than twelve, what Louie would describe as a fifteen-minute torture chamber, well over three times his optimal distance. He had only twice raced beyond a mile, and the 5,000, like the mile, was dominated by much older men. He had only two weeks to train for Compton and, with the Olympic trials in July, two months to become Americas youngest elite 5,000-meter man. But he had nothing to lose. He trained so hard that he rubbed the skin right off one of his toes, leaving his sock bloody. The race, contested before ten thousand fans, was a barn burner. Louie and Bright took off together, leaving the field far behind. Each time one took the lead, the other would gun past him again and the crowd would roar. They turned into the homestretch for the last time dead together, Bright inside, Louie outside. Ahead, a runner named John Casey was on the verge of being lapped. Officials waved at Casey, who tried to yield, but Bright and Louie came to him before he could get out of the way. Bright squeezed through on the inside, but Louie had to shift right to go around Casey. Confused, Casey veered farther right, carrying Louie out. Louie sped up to go around him, but Casey sped up also, carrying Louie most of the way toward the grandstand. Finally, Louie took a half step to cut inside, lost his balance, and dropped one hand to the ground. Bright now had an advantage that looked, to Petes eye, to be several yards. Louie took off after him, gaining rapidly. With the crowd on its feet and screaming, Louie caught Bright at the tape. He was a beat too late: Bright won by a glimmer. He and Louie had clipped out the fastest 5,000 run in America in 1936. Louies Olympic dream was on again. On June 13, Louie made quick work of another Olympic 5,000 qualifier, but the toe injured in training opened up again. He was too lame to train for his final qualifying race, and it cost him. Bright beat Louie by four yards, but Louie wasnt disgraced, clocking the third-fastest 5,000 run in America since 1931. He was invited to the final of the Olympic trials. On the night of July 3, 1936, the residents of Torrance gathered to see Louie off to New York. They presented him with a wallet bulging with traveling money, a train ticket, new clothes, a shaving kit, and a suitcase emblazoned with the words TORRANCE TORNADO. Fearing that the suitcase made him look brash, Louie carried it out of view and covered the nickname with adhesive tape, then boarded his train. According to his diary, he spent the journey introducing himself to every pretty girl he saw, including a total of five between Chicago and Ohio. When the train doors slid open in New York, Louie felt as if he were walking into an inferno. It was the hottest summer on record in America, and New York was one of the hardest-hit cities. In 1936, air-conditioning was a rarity, found only in a few theaters and department stores, so escape was nearly impossible. That week, which included the hottest three-day period in the nations history, the heat would kill three thousand Americans. In Manhattan, where it would reach 106 degrees, forty people would die. Louie and Norman Bright split the cost of a room at the Lincoln Hotel. Like all of the athletes, in spite of the heat, they had to train. Sweating profusely day and night, training in the sun, unable to sleep in stifling hotel rooms and YMCAs, lacking any appetite, virtually every athlete lost a huge amount of weight. By one estimate, no athlete dropped less than ten pounds. One was so desperate for relief that he moved into an air-conditioned theater, buying tickets to movies and sleeping through every showing. Louie was as miserable as everyone else. Chronically dehydrated, he drank as much as he could; after an 880-meter run in 106-degree heat, he downed eight orangeades and a quart of beer. Each night, taking advantage of the cooler air, he walked six miles. His weight fell precipitously. The prerace newspaper coverage riled him. Don Lash was considered unbeatable, having just taken the NCAA 5,000-meter title for the third time, set a world record at two miles and an American record at 10,000 meters, and repeatedly thumped Bright, once by 150 yards. Bright was pegged for second, a series of other athletes for third through fifth. Louie wasnt mentioned. Like everyone else, Louie was daunted by Lash, but the first three runners would go to Berlin, and he believed he could be among them. If I have any strength left from the heat, he wrote to Pete, Ill beat Bright and give Lash the scare of his life. On the night before the race, Louie lay sleepless in his sweltering hotel room. He was thinking about all the people who would be disappointed if he failed. The next morning, Louie and Bright left the hotel together. The trials were to be held at a new stadium on Randalls Island, in the confluence of the East and Harlem rivers. It was a hair short of 90 in the city, but when they got off the ferry, they found the stadium much hotter, probably far over 100 degrees. All over the track, athletes were keeling over and being carted off to hospitals. Louie sat waiting for his race, baking under a scalding sun that, he said, made a wreck of me. At last, they were told to line up. The gun cracked, the men rushed forward, and the race was on. Lash bounded to the lead, with Bright in close pursuit. Louie dropped back, and the field settled in for the grind. On the other side of the continent, a throng of Torrancers crouched around the radio in the Zamperinis house. They were in agonies. The start time for Louies race had passed, but the NBC radio announcer was lingering on the swimming trials. Pete was so frustrated that he considered putting his foot through the radio. At last, the announcer listed the positions of the 5,000-meter runners, but didnt mention Louie. Unable to bear the tension, Louise fled to the kitchen, out of earshot. The runners pushed through laps seven, eight, nine. Lash and Bright led the field. Louie hovered in the middle of the pack, waiting to make his move. The heat was suffocating. One runner dropped, and the others had no choice but to hurdle him. Then another went down, and they jumped him, too. Louie could feel his feet cooking; the spikes on his shoes were conducting heat up from the track. Norman Brights feet were burning particularly badly. In terrible pain, he took a staggering step off the track, twisted his ankle, then lurched back on. The stumble seemed to finish him. He lost touch with Lash. When Louie and the rest of the pack came up to him, he had no resistance to offer. Still he ran on. As the runners entered the final lap, Lash gave himself a breather, dropping just behind his Indiana teammate, Tom Deckard. Well behind him, Louie was ready to move. Angling into the backstretch, he accelerated. Lashs back drew closer, and then it was just a yard or two ahead. Looking at the bobbing head of the mighty Don Lash, Louie felt intimidated. For several strides, he hesitated. Then he saw the last curve ahead, and the sight slapped him awake. He opened up as fast as he could go. Banking around the turn, Louie drew alongside Lash just as Lash shifted right to pass Deckard. Louie was carried three-wide, losing precious ground. Leaving Deckard behind, Louie and Lash ran side by side into the homestretch. With one hundred yards to go, Louie held a slight lead. Lash, fighting furiously, stuck with him. Neither man had any more speed to give. Louie could see that he was maybe a hands width ahead, and he wouldnt let it go. With heads thrown back, legs pumping out of sync, Louie and Lash drove for the tape. With just a few yards remaining, Lash began inching up, drawing even. The two runners, legs rubbery with exhaustion, flung themselves past the judges in a finish so close, Louie later said, you couldnt put a hair between us. The announcers voice echoed across the living room in Torrance. Zamperini, he said, had won. Standing in the kitchen, Louise heard the crowd in the next room suddenly shout. Outside, car horns honked, the front door swung open, and neighbors gushed into the house. As a crush of hysterical Torrancers celebrated around her, Louise wept happy tears. Anthony popped the cork on a bottle of wine and began filling glasses and singing out toasts, smiling, said one reveler, like a jackass eating cactus. A moment later, Louies voice came over the airwaves, calling a greeting to Torrance. Louie and Lash at the finish line at the 1936 Olympic trials. Courtesy of Louis Zamperini But the announcer was mistaken. The judges ruled that it was Lash, not Zamperini, who had won. Deckard had hung on for third. The announcer soon corrected himself, but it hardly dimmed the celebration in Torrance. The hometown boy had made the Olympic team. A few minutes after the race, Louie stood under a cold shower. He could feel the sting of the burns on his feet, following the patterns of his cleats. After drying off, he weighed himself. He had sweated off three pounds. He looked in a mirror and saw a ghostly image looking back at him. Across the room, Norman Bright was slumped on a bench with one ankle propped over the other knee, staring at his foot. It, like the other one, was burned so badly that the skin had detached from the sole. He had finished fifth, two places short of the Olympic team.* By the days end, Louie had received some 125 telegrams. TORRANCE HAS GONE NUTS, read one. VILLAGE HAS GONE SCREWEY, read another. There was even one from the Torrance Police Department, which must have been relieved that someone else was chasing Louie. That night, Louie pored over the evening papers, which showed photos of the finish of his race. In some, he seemed to be tied with Lash; in others, he seemed to be in front. On the track, hed felt sure that he had won. The first three would go to the Olympics, but Louie felt cheated nonetheless. As Louie studied the papers, the judges were reviewing photographs and a film of the 5,000. Later, Louie sent home a telegram with the news: JUDGES CALLED IT A TIE. LEAVE NOON WEDNESDAY FOR BERLIN. WILL RUN HARDER IN BERLIN. When Sylvia returned from work the next day, the house was packed with well-wishers and newsmen. Louies twelve-year-old sister, Virginia, clutched one of Louies trophies and told reporters of her plans to be the next great Zamperini runner. Anthony headed off to the Kiwanis club, where he and Louies Boy Scout master would drink toasts to Louie until four in the morning. Pete walked around town to back slaps and congratulations. Am I ever happy, he wrote to Louie. I have to go around with my shirt open so that I have enough room for my chest. Louie Zamperini was on his way to Germany to compete in the Olympics in an event that he had only contested four times. He was the youngest distance runner to ever make the team. * Louies time was called a world interscholastic record, but this was a misnomer. There were no official world high school records. Later sources would list the time as 4:21.2, but all sources from 1934 list it as 4:21.3. Because different organizations had different standards for record verification, there is some confusion about whose record Louie broke, but according to newspapers at the time, the previous recordholder was Ed Shields, who ran 4:23.6 in 1916. In 1925, Chesley Unruh was timed in 4:20.5, but this wasnt officially verified. Cunningham was also credited with the record, but his time, 4:24.7 run in 1930, was far slower than those of Unruh and Shields. Louies mark stood until Bob Seaman broke it in 1953. * Apparently because of his burns, Cunningham didnt start high school until he was eighteen. * Bright wouldnt have another shot at the Olympics, but he would run for the rest of his life, setting masters records in his old age. Eventually he went blind, but he kept right on running, holding the end of a rope while a guide held the other. The only problem was that most guides couldnt run as fast as my brother, even when he was in his late seventies, wrote his sister Georgie Bright Kunkel. In his eighties his grandnephews would walk with him around his care center as he timed the walk on his stopwatch. Four Plundering Germany THE LUXURY STEAMER MANHATTAN, BEARING THE 1936 U.S. Olympic team to Germany, was barely past the Statue of Liberty before Louie began stealing things. In his defense, he wasnt the one who started it. Mindful of being a teenaged upstart in the company of such seasoned track deities as Jesse Owens and Glenn Cunningham, Louie curbed his coltish impulses and began growing a mustache. But he soon noticed that practically everyone on board was souvenir collecting, pocketing towels, ashtrays, and anything else they could easily lift. They had nothing on me, he said later. I [was] Phi Beta Kappa in taking things. The mustache was abandoned. As the voyage went on, Louie and the other lightfingers quietly denuded the Manhattan. Everyone was fighting for training space. Gymnasts set up their apparatuses, but with the ship swaying, they kept getting bucked off. Basketball players did passing drills on deck, but the wind kept jettisoning the balls into the Atlantic. Fencers lurched all over the ship. The water athletes discovered that the salt water in the ships tiny pool sloshed back and forth vehemently, two feet deep one moment, seven feet the next, creating waves so large, one water polo man took up bodysurfing. Every large roll heaved most of the water, and everyone in it, onto the deck, so the coaches had to tie the swimmers to the wall. The situation was hardly better for runners. Louie found that the only way to train was to circle the first-class deck, weaving among deck chairs, reclining movie stars, and other athletes. In high seas, the runners were buffeted about, all staggering in one direction, then in the other. Louie had to move so slowly that he couldnt lose the marathon walker creeping along beside him. Courtesy of Louis Zamperini For a Depression-era teenager accustomed to breakfasting on stale bread and milk, and who had eaten in a restaurant only twice in his life,* the Manhattan was paradise. Upon rising, the athletes sipped cocoa and grazed from plates of pastries. At nine, there was steak and eggs in the dining room. A coffee break, lunch, tea, and dinner followed, nose to tail. Between meals, a ring for the porter would bring anything the heart desired, and late at night, the athletes raided the galley. Inching around the first-class deck, Louie found a little window in which pints of beer kept magically appearing. He made them magically disappear. When seasickness thinned the ranks of the diners, extra desserts were laid out, and Louie, who had sturdy sea legs, let nothing go to waste. His consumption became legendary. Recalling how the ship had to make an unscheduled stop to restock the pantries, runner James LuValle joked, Of course, most of this was due to Lou Zamperini. Louie made a habit of sitting next to the mountainous shot putter Jack Torrance, who had an inexplicably tiny appetite. When Torrance couldnt finish his entr?e, Louie dropped onto the plate like a vulture. On the evening of July 17, Louie returned from dinner so impressed with his eating that he immortalized it on the back of a letter: 1 pint of pineapple juice 2 bowls of beef broth 2 sardine salads 5 rolls 2 tall glasses of milk 4 small sweet pickles 2 plates of chicken 2 helpings of sweet potatoes 4 pieces of butter 3 helpings of ice cream with wafers 3 chunks of angel food cake with white frosting 1? pounds of cherries 1 apple 1 orange 1 glass of ice water Biggest meal I ever ate in my life, he wrote, and I cant believe it myself, but I was there Where it all went, I dont know. Hed soon find out. Shortly before the athletes came ashore at Hamburg, a doctor noted that quite a few were expanding. One javelin competitor had gained eight pounds in five days. Several wrestlers, boxers, and weightlifters had eaten themselves out of their weight classes, and some were unable to compete. Don Lash had gained ten pounds. Louie outdid them all, regaining all the weight that hed lost in New York, and then some. When he got off the Manhattan, he weighed twelve pounds more than when hed gotten on nine days earlier. On July 24, the athletes shuffled from the ship to a train, stopped over in Frankfurt for a welcoming dinner, and reboarded the train toting quite a few of their hosts priceless wine glasses. The Germans chased down the train, searched the baggage, repatriated the glasses, and sent the Americans on to Berlin. There, the train was swamped by teenagers holding scissors and chanting, Wo ist Jesse? Wo ist Jesse? When Owens stepped out, the throng swarmed him and began snipping off bits of his clothing. Owens leapt back onto the train. The athletes were driven to the Olympic Village, a masterpiece of design crafted by Wolfgang F?rstner, a Wehrmacht captain. Nestled in an undulating patchwork of beech forests, lakes, and clearings were 140 cottages, a shopping mall, a barbershop, a post office, a dentists office, a sauna, a hospital, training facilities, and dining halls. A new technology called television was on exhibit in the village office. There were wooded trails, over which bounded a multitude of imported animals. The Japanese athletes were especially taken with the deer and began feeding them treats in such volume that the Germans discreetly moved the deer out. One British wag wondered aloud where the storks were. The next day, two hundred storks appeared. Louie was housed in a cottage with several other athletes, including Owens. The great sprinter kept a fatherly eye on him; Louie repaid him by swiping his DO NOT DISTURB sign, leaving poor Owens besieged by autograph seekers. Louie swam in the lakes, ate appalling quantities of food, and socialized. The hit of the village was the Japanese contingent, whose tradition of prodigious gift giving made them the collective Santa Claus of the Games. On the first of August, Louie and the other Olympians were driven through Berlin for the opening ceremonies. Every vista suggested coiled might. Nazi banners had been papered over everything. As much as a third of the male population was in uniform, as were many children. Military units drilled openly, and though powered aircraft were forbidden under the Versailles Treaty, the strength of the burgeoning Luftwaffe was on conspicuous display over an airfield, where gliders swooped over impressed tourists and Hitler Youth. The buses had machine gun mounts on the roofs and undercarriages that could be converted into tank-style tracks. The city was pristine. Even the wagon horses left no mark, their droppings instantly scooped up by uniformed street sweepers. Berlins Gypsies and Jewish students had vanishedthe Gypsies had been dumped in camps, the Jews confined to the University of Berlin campusleaving only smiling Aryans. The only visible wisp of discord was the broken glass in the windows of Jewish businesses. The buses drove to the Olympic stadium. Entering in a parade of nations and standing at attention, the athletes were treated to a thunderous show that culminated in the release of twenty thousand doves. As the birds circled in panicked confusion, cannons began firing, prompting the birds to relieve themselves over the athletes. With each report, the birds let fly. Louie stayed at attention, shaking with laughter. Louie had progressed enough in four 5,000-meter races to compete with Lash, but he knew that he had no chance of winning an Olympic medal. It wasnt just that he was out of shape from the long idleness on the ship, and almost pudgy from gorging on board and in the village. Few nations had dominated an Olympic event as Finland had the 5,000, winning gold in 1912, 24, 28, and 32. Lauri Lehtinen, who had won gold in 32, was back for another go, along with his brilliant teammates Gunnar H?ckert and Ilmari Salminen. When Louie watched them train, noted a reporter, his eyes bulged. Louie was too young and too green to beat the Finns, and he knew it. His day would come, he believed, in the 1,500 four years later. In the last days before his preliminary heat, Louie went to the stadium and watched Owens crush the field in the 100 meters and Cunningham break the world record for the 1,500 but still lose to New Zealander Jack Lovelock. The atmosphere was surreal. Each time Hitler entered, the crowd jumped up with the Nazi salute. With each foreign athletes victory, an abbreviated version of his or her national anthem was played. When a German athlete won, the stadium rang with every stanza of Deutschland ?ber Alles and the spectators shouted Sieg heil! endlessly, arms outstretched. According to the swimmer Iris Cummings, the slavish nationalism was a joke to the Americans, but not to the Germans. The Gestapo paced the stadium, eyeing the fans. A German woman sitting with Cummings refused to salute. She shrank between Iris and her mother, whispering, Dont let them see me! Dont let them see me! On August 4, three 5,000-meter qualifying heats were run. Louie drew the third, deepest heat, facing Lehtinen. The top five in each heat would make the final. In the first, Lash ran third. In the second, Tom Deckard, the other American, failed to qualify. Louie slogged through heat three, feeling fat and leaden-legged. He barely caught fifth place at the line. He was, he wrote in his diary, tired as hell. He had three days to prepare for the final. While he was waiting, an envelope arrived from Pete. Inside were two playing cards, an ace and a joker. On the joker Pete had written, Which are you going to be, the joker, which is another word for horses ass, or the TOPS: Ace of spades. The best in the bunch. The highest in the deck. Take your choice! On the ace he had written, Lets see you storm through as the best in the deck. If the joker does not appeal to you, throw it away and keep this for good luck. Pete. On August 7, Louie lay facedown in the infield of the Olympic stadium, readying himself for the 5,000-meter final. One hundred thousand spectators ringed the track. Louie was terrified. He pressed his face to the grass, inhaling deeply, trying to settle his quivering nerves. When the time came, he rose, walked to the starting line, bowed forward, and waited. His paper number, 751, flapped against his chest. At the sound of the gun, Louies body, electric with nervous energy, wanted to bolt, but Louie made a conscious effort to relax, knowing how far he had to go. As the runners surged forward, he kept his stride short, letting the pacesetters untangle. Lash emerged with the lead, a troika of Finns just behind him. Louie floated left and settled into the second tier of runners. The laps wound by. Lash kept leading, the Finns on his heels. Louie pushed along in the second group. He began breathing in a sickening odor. He looked around and realized that it was coming from a runner ahead of him, his hair a slick of reeking pomade. Feeling a swell of nausea, Louie slowed and slid out a bit, and the stench dissipated. Lash and the Finns were slipping out of reach, and Louie wanted to go with them, but his body felt sodden. As the clumps of men stretched and thinned into a long, broken thread, Louie sank through the field, to twelfth. Only three stragglers trailed him. Ahead, the Finns scuffed and sidled into Lash, roughing him up. Lash held his ground. But on the eighth lap, Salminen cocked his elbow and rammed it into Lashs chest. Lash folded abruptly, in evident pain. The Finns bounded away. They entered the eleventh lap in a tight knot, looking to sweep the medals. Then, for an instant, they strayed too close to each other. Salminens leg clipped that of H?ckert. As H?ckert stumbled, Salminen fell heavily to the track. He rose, dazed, and resumed running. His race, like Lashs, was lost. Louie saw none of it. He passed the deflated Lash, but it meant little to him. He was tired. The Finns were small and distant, much too far away to catch. He found himself thinking of Pete, and of something that he had said as they had sat on their bed years earlier: A lifetime of glory is worth a moment of pain. Louie thought: Let go. Nearing the finish line for the penultimate time, Louie fixed his eyes on the gleaming head of the pomaded competitor, who was many runners ahead. He began a dramatic acceleration. Around the turn and down the backstretch, Louie kicked, his legs reaching and pushing, his cleats biting the track, his speed dazzling. One by one, runners came up ahead and faded away behind. All I had, Louie would say, I gave it. As Louie flew around the last bend, H?ckert had already won, with Lehtinen behind him. Louie wasnt watching them. He was chasing the glossy head, still distant. He heard a gathering roar and realized that the crowd had caught sight of his rally and was shouting him on. Even Hitler, who had been contorting himself in concert with the athletes, was watching him. Louie ran on, Petes words beating in his head, his whole body burning. The shining hair was far away, then nearer. Then it was so close that Louie again smelled the pomade. With the last of his strength, Louie threw himself over the line. He had made up fifty yards in the last lap and beaten his personal best time by more than eight seconds. His final time, 14:46.8, was by far the fastest 5,000 run by any American in 1936, almost twelve seconds faster than Lashs best for the year. He had just missed seventh place. As Louie bent, gasping, over his spent legs, he marveled at the kick that he had forced from his body. It had felt very, very fast. Two coaches hurried up, gaping at their stopwatches, on which they had clocked his final lap. Both watches showed precisely the same time. In distance running in the 1930s, it was exceptionally rare for a man to run a last lap in one minute. This rule held even in the comparatively short hop of a mile: In the three fastest miles ever run, the winners final lap had been clocked at 61.2, 58.9, and 59.1 seconds, respectively. No lap in those three historic performances had been faster than 58.9. In the 5,000, well over three miles, turning a final lap in less than 70 seconds was a monumental feat. In his record-breaking 1932 Olympic 5,000, Lehtinen had spun his final lap in 69.2 seconds. Louie had run his last lap in 56 seconds. After cleaning himself up, Louie climbed into the stands. Nearby, Adolf Hitler sat in his box, among his entourage. Someone pointed out a cadaverous man near Hitler and told Louie that it was Joseph Goebbels, Hitlers minister of propaganda. Louie had never heard of him. Pulling out his camera, he carried it to Goebbels and asked him if hed snap a picture of the f?hrer. Goebbels asked him his name and event, then took the camera, moved away, snapped a photo, spoke with Hitler, returned, and told Louie that the f?hrer wanted to see him. Louie was led into the f?hrers section. Hitler bent from his box, smiled, and offered his hand. Louie, standing below, had to reach far up. Their fingers barely touched. Hitler said something in German. An interpreter translated. Ah, youre the boy with the fast finish. Happy with his performance, Louie was itching to raise hell. He had hoped to pal around with Glenn Cunningham, but his hero proved too mature for him. Instead, he found a suitably irresponsible companion, donned his Olympic dress uniform, and descended on Berlin. The two prowled bars, wooed girls, chirped, Heil Hitler! at everyone in uniform, and stole anything Germanish that they could pry loose. In an automat, they discovered German beer. The serving size was a liter, which took Louie a good while to finish. Buzzing, they went walking, then circled back for another liter, which went down easier than the first. Trolling around Berlin, they stopped across the street from the Reich Chancellery. A car pulled up and out stepped Hitler, who walked inside. Studying the building, Louie spotted a small Nazi flag near the doors. It would make a swell souvenir, and it looked easy to reach. The banner didnt yet carry much symbolic meaning for him, or many other Americans, in the summer of 36. Louie just had a hankering to steal in his head and two persuasive liters of German brew in his belly. Two guards paced the apron before the Chancellery. Watching them walk, Louie noted that on each pass, there was a point at which both had their backs to the flag. As the soldiers turned, Louie ran to the flag and immediately realized that it was much higher than he had thought. He began jumping in the air, trying to catch the edge of it. He became so absorbed in his task that he forgot about the guards, who ran toward him, shouting. Taking one last lunge for the flag, Louie snagged the edge and fell to the pavement, tearing the banner down with him, then scrambled to his feet and ran like mad. He heard a crack! Behind him, a guard was running at him, his gun pointed at the sky, yelling, Halten Sie! That much Louie understood. He stopped. The guard grabbed his shoulder, spun him around, saw his Olympic uniform, and hesitated. He asked Louie his name. The one thing that Louie knew about Nazis was that they were anti-Semitic, so when he gave his name, he delivered it in an exaggeratedly Italian fashion, rolling the r, he would say, for about two minutes. The guards conferred, went inside, and came out with someone who looked more important than they. The new German asked him why he had stolen the flag. Louie, laying it on thick, replied that he wanted a souvenir of the happy time he had had in beautiful Germany. The Germans gave him the flag and let him go. When the press got wind of Louies adventure, reporters took creative liberties. Louie had stormed Hitlers palace to steal the flag in a hail of gunfire that had whistled around his head. Plunging eighteen feet, he had raced away, pursued by two columns of armed guards, who had tackled and beat him. Just as a German rifle butt had been about to crush Louies head, the German armys commander in chief had halted the attack, and Louie had talked the general into sparing his life. In one version, Hitler himself had allowed him to keep the flag. In another, Louie had concealed the flag so cleverly that it was never discovered. He had done it all, went the story, to win the heart of a girl. On August 11, Louie packed his belongings, the flag, and an array of other stolen Teutonica and left his room in the Olympic Village. The Games were winding down, and the track athletes were leaving early to compete in meets in England and Scotland. A few days later, fireworks brought the Games to a booming close. Hitlers show had gone without a hitch. The world was full of praise. The American basketball player Frank Lubin lingered in Berlin for a few days. His German hosts had invited him out to dinner, so they cruised the streets in search of a restaurant. A pretty place caught Lubins eye, but when he suggested it, his hosts balked: a Star of David hung in the window. To be seen there, they said, might prove harmful to us. The group found a gentile restaurant, then visited a public swimming pool. As they walked in, Lubin saw a sign reading JUDEN VERBOTEN. The sign hadnt been there during the Games. All over Berlin, such signs were reappearing, and the Nazis virulently anti-Semitic Der St?rmer, nowhere to be seen during the Games, was back on newsstands. Lubin had won a gold medal in Berlin, but when he left, he felt only relief. Something terrible was coming. The Olympic Village wasnt empty for long. The cottages became military barracks. With the Olympics over and his usefulness for propaganda expended, the villages designer, Captain F?rstner, learned that he was to be cashiered from the Wehrmacht because he was a Jew. He killed himself. Less than twenty miles away, in the town of Oranienburg, the first prisoners were being hauled into the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. On the evening of September 2, when Louie arrived in Torrance, he was plunked onto a throne on the flatbed of a truck and paraded to the depot, where four thousand people, whipped up by a band, sirens, and factory whistles, cheered. Louie shook hands and grinned for pictures. I didnt only start too slow, he said, I ran too slow. As he settled back into home, Louie thought of what lay ahead. Running the 1936 Olympic 5,000 at nineteen on four races experience had been a shot at the moon. Running the 1940 Olympic 1,500 at twenty-three after years of training would be another matter. The same thought was circling in Petes mind. Louie could win gold in 1940, and both brothers knew it. A few weeks before, officials had announced which city would host the 1940 Games. Louie shaped his dreams around Tokyo, Japan. * Louie would later recall eating at a restaurant only once, when a family friend bought him a sandwich at a lunch counter, but according to his Olympic diary, after his 5,000-meter trial, a fan treated him to dinner in a Manhattan skyscraper. The meal cost $7, a staggering sum to Louie, who had been paying between 65 cents and $1.35 for his dinners, carefully recording the prices in his diary. Five Into War AT THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, LOUIE found himself on a campus infested with world-class track athletes. He spent mornings in class and afternoons training with his best friend, Payton Jordan. A sensationally fast sprinter, Jordan had seen nothing but Jesse Owenss back at the 1936 Olympic trials and, like Louie, was aiming for gold in Tokyo. In the evenings, Louie, Jordan, and their teammates wedged into Louies 31 Ford and drove to Torrance for Louise Zamperinis spaghetti, considering themselves so close to family that Sylvia once found a high jumper asleep on her bed. In his spare time, Louie crashed society weddings, worked as a movie extra, and harassed his housemates with practical jokes, replacing their deviled ham with cat food and milk with milk of magnesia. He pursued coeds by all means necessary, once landing a date with a beauty by hurling himself into the side of her car, then pretending to have been struck. Between classes, Louie, Jordan, and their friends congregated near the administration building, sitting at the foot of the statue of Tommy Trojan, the symbol of USC. On some days, they were joined by a neatly dressed Japanese ?migr? who lingered on the edges of the group. His name was Kunichi James Sasaki. Known as Jimmie, he had come to America in his late teens and settled in Palo Alto, where he had endured the social misery of attending elementary school as an adult. Among Louies friends, no one would remember what Sasaki studied at USC, but they all recalled his quiet, anodyne presence; saying almost nothing, he smiled without interruption. Sasaki was an ardent track fan, and he sought Louies acquaintance. Louie was especially impressed with Sasakis scholarliness; prior to coming to USC, Jimmie said, he had earned degrees at Harvard, Princeton, and Yale. Bonding over shared interests in sports and music, the two became good friends. Training for the Olympics, 1940. Bettmann/Corbis Louie