When the United States entered World War II, he joined the Air Force and became a bombardier. On a rescue mission for a fellow flight crew that was reported missing, the plane that Louis was on crashed due to mechanical issues. He and the pilot, Russell Allan Phillips survived, along with new crew member Francis McNamara. They would spend forty-seven days at sea, McNamara would unfortunately not survive by the time the Japanese captured them.
He would be sent to several Japanese prisoner of war camps, being used as a propaganda tool. At one point in his captivity he was forced to race Japanese runners that were brought in to race Louis. The one race he decided he could win, his reward was a beating that left him unconscious. One sadistic guard known as 'The Bird' had it out for Louis. He made Louis' life hell and even singled him out for select punishments.
Louis would survive his captivity and return to the United States. He spent several years trying to process what he had been through, taking to alcohol as a place of solice. After several years as an alcoholic, he finally was able to pull himself out of the dark whole he felt he could never get out of. He spent the rest of his life trying to live every moment to the fullest and becoming an inspiration for those that had also lost their way. He passed away July 2, 2014 at the age of 97. A movie based on the book "Unbroken" will be released this Christmas season based about his life and war time experiences.
For the trailer for the movie "Unbroken", click Here.
Yes, Zamperini was not from Iowa, but I feel his story is an inspiration. Those from Kossuth that were prisoners of the Japanese have all passed away. Their experiences died with them. From the research I have done on the camps themselves, it is safe to say that Louis' experience was similar to what many faced. Such an inspirational story. Such an inspirational man.