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Classic Replay | A Visit with an American Hero: The Story of Louis Zamperini Part 2

A New Beginning / Greg Laurie
The Truth Network Radio
July 9, 2022 3:00 am

Classic Replay | A Visit with an American Hero: The Story of Louis Zamperini Part 2

A New Beginning / Greg Laurie

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July 9, 2022 3:00 am

In this classic episode, we revisit the second part of Pastor Greg’s special interview with Louis Zamperini, from a program originally aired on A New Beginning. Pastor Greg speaks with Louie about surviving a World War II plane crash, 47 days adrift at sea, and two years in a concentration camp. It’s a story of resilience, rescue, and redemption.


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Louis Zamperini is a true American hero. He's a man who survived more close calls than one could imagine. And today, we'll see there was a reason God preserved him.

Here's Pastor Greg to resume his conversation with Louis Zamperini as he talks about being adrift at sea for 47 days. Yeah, well, of course, we all took a course in identification. But I had observation wings, so I knew the plan. When I thought far away, I knew it was a B-25. And so when it got closer and closer, we started taking our shirts off. And waving our shirts to the plane came down low, and I thought, boy, they're gonna wave at us. We heard a machine gun firing, and two of us in one raft, and the pilots in the second raft lashed together.

And the bullets went between our legs and our armpits. And the one bullet hit the pump on the second raft, and it ricocheted the raft in half. So then, we decided to jump in the water in the next half. But the pilots held gunners didn't have the strength to get back in the raft. I had to boost them in. So then, I got in the raft.

When they made another pass, I would jump in the water with two sharks. Now, I was taught how to keep away from sharks or keep them away from me. One thing didn't work. Showing the waste of your teeth and your eyes, that didn't work. We were told, this is the guy from the South Pacific, make a violent motion with your hands, and that didn't work.

But the thing that works is a straight arm. Because their nose, they turn it up like that, and you just hit them on the end of their nose, and they take off. And their nose somehow is very sensitive.

But they always come back, and you do it again and again. Now, the most remarkable thing is, there's three of us finally in that raft, in a space about half as big as this. So we're jammed in there, and there are 48 holes under our armpits, just growing by an eighth of an inch. It's unbelievable. And you talk about a real miracle. The Japanese, when they finally picked us up, we were the object of attention until they pulled the raft to shore. Then they left us, and they kept saying, nanda, nanda, counting all these holes.

And they looked us over for injuries, no injuries. So after 46 days, you were, made your way to the Marshall Islands, you were captured by the Japanese, and now they somehow find out that you are Louis Zamperini, the Olympic athlete. How did they know that? Well, in those days, the Japanese knew more about American athletes than we did. They knew more about American movie stars than we did. And the largest, the largest children club I ever spoke to was in 1950 in Tokyo. They came here to get educated.

Also, they admired Hollywood, and the movie stars, they admired American athletes. They didn't even have a baseball team or anything. So they knew all about me, but when I was declared missing, it's when I picked up your startle. In fact, people say, well, what was the worst thing? 47 days on a raft must have been the worst thing that ever happened. No, 43 days after capture was the worst time of my life, much worse than the raft. And submarines came in there, 80 guys, they come through and spit on you, throw rocks at you, jab you with sticks.

Then they injected us three times for some experiment. And then, but the first people we met when we got ashore was a panel of naval intelligence interrogation officers dressed in white Europe, worn gold braid, white tablecloth, drinks, pastries. And one of those six said, Lieutenant Zamperini, when you were entering USC in 36, I was graduating, and he was actually the most obnoxious of the six, a Trojan. At USC, we believe in the excellency in education, excellency in sports, excellency in morals, and this guy was really a creep. So I finally, I finally had to come to the conclusion that he was a third year transfer from UCLA.

That's good. But ultimately, you ended up in a Japanese concentration camp and Mutahiro Watanabe, am I pronouncing his name correctly, who was given the nickname The Bird. This was a very cruel, vicious man. Why did you name him The Bird? Why did, that was a name given him.

Most of the guards, I couldn't repeat their names, but I don't know why they called him The Bird because maybe if he found out a dirty word, he might be even meaner, so I don't know why they named him The Bird. But he was vicious, he was a psychopath, and I believe he picked on me daily because of the propaganda broadcast that I refused to do, and I think they told him to keep on me every day, to make my life miserable, so I'd accept, you know, the hotel room and the restaurant, and do my broadcast daily with Tokyo Rose. So I refused to do that, so I got punished daily right up to the end of the war.

Right. You were, they wanted you, a celebrity, to go and do a broadcast on the radio that would be used as propaganda by the Japanese, and though it would have caused you to be relieved of a lot of suffering, you chose to not do that, and you were punished for it. Well, yeah, there's no way you can live with that for the rest of your life, but the first propaganda was, they kept me in a secret camp for a year and a month, it takes that long to be officially declared dead. The State Department has confirmed that Olympic athlete Lieutenant Louis M. Perini, missing in action for over a year, has been declared dead.

In news from the European Union... When our government declared me dead and they came out, they condemned America for declaring me dead, and they took credit for my rescue, and so that's the way they are. Then they let me make a broadcast to my parents, which is okay, but that was a come on, and then they wanted me to come back a week later and read the propaganda they had, which is also in there. Yeah, and in the book you talk about what your food rations were like, sometimes consisting of nothing more than a ball of rice, and in the book it says, The food was infested with rat droppings, maggots, and so much sand and grit that Louis's teeth were soon pitted, chipped, and cracked. The men nicknamed the rations, all dumbo. So this, how did you survive on food like that?

I don't know how anybody's tried, but we lost about, in one winter we lost 80 men. The worst diet of all was, we had to pull the seaweed out of the ocean and they would boil it, and it would become very like snot. And you had to eat that, and they gave you, white rice we never got, that's dessert.

We got a kind of a red millet, really tough stuff, and so a handful of red millet every day and a bowl full of seaweed. And that was our diet, and that's why guys died. They got weak and had to go to work, came back and laid down and said, wake me up when the chow's ready, and kick them on the foot and they don't wake up. And the bird beat you, didn't he? Yeah, he was trying to figure out a way to do me in, I think, because he threatened my life over and over again, because when he beat me I was standing with my fist clenched.

And I was always a defiant kid, and he wanted to, he wanted me to hit him, because he said, when I draw my sword I must use it, Jumari law. World War II is coming to an end. The Japanese refused to surrender. President Truman gives the order to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. What had been Hiroshima was a white mountain of smoke, and when we saw it first it was already up to 25,000 feet.

About a thousand feet off the ground it looked like boiling dust. Exactly 10 seconds after 7.35 this morning, August 14th, from London, Swiss Radio has announced that Japan has accepted the Allied note requesting surrender. The battleship Missouri, 53,000 ton flagship of Admiral Halsey's third fleet, becomes the scene of an unforgettable ceremony marking the complete and formal surrender of Japan.

Japan finally surrenders, you return home again, and eventually you marry Cynthia Applewhite. Was your homecoming as wonderful as you hoped it would be? You mentioned post-traumatic stress syndrome. Were you dealing with that after you got home?

Well yeah, you don't look any different. I had it in prison camp because I was, it started with every day in prison camp I'm straddling the bird. I'm always straddling the guy, all the way home, and after I got married I was still straddling him in my dreams. And one night for some reason I had my wife by the throat, and boy that scared me, and I didn't know what to do about it. Right, and you wanted to kill the bird didn't you? That's right, in my dreams I wanted to go back to Japan because he ruined my life and I wanted to go back there and do him in.

You actually were trying to raise the money to return to Japan to literally kill this man. That caused you so much misery. Right, I went into one investment after the other and I guess the Lord didn't want me to make any money. And so, then my wife decided that, this was too much for her, she wanted to get a divorce. So she filed, and then some young person and his girlfriends came into our apartment and said a young fella named Billy Graham was coming to town. He started to preach to us and I got mad and walked out. My wife stayed and listened.

She went down to the meeting, came home and tried to get me to go. And I was fused, but then she said the magical word, because of my conversion I'm not going to get a divorce. Well that softened me up a bit, but then she talked me into going down there, but Billy started to read from the scriptures. The Bible describes the heart in various ways. The Bible says that our hearts are sinful, that it's full of evil imaginations, Proverbs 6.18, all of the wicked imaginations that Hitler had.

The Bible says that our hearts are desperately wicked. I thought, I don't need him to tell me I'm a sinner, I know I am. So I got mad, left and went home. My wife was all over me again.

And then I kept thinking, now she's not going to divorce me because she was converted. And finally I gave in and went back again. I said, when he says every head bowed and every eye closed, we're out of there. Well, just as he said that, before he said it, I got up, started to leave, just as he gave the invitation.

But he said something at the end about people when they come to the end of their rope, there's no way else to turn. It's like when I'm sinking under the ship, they turn to God. And I thought, yeah, that's what I did. I turned to God, and God saw me through the war. He kept his promise, and I didn't keep mine. And I felt like a fool. I went to the prayer room, got on my knees, and came out a different person. Amen. So, you're at the Billy Graham Crusade. It's 1949.

It's the 10th that's been set up there. This really was the launch of Billy Graham's worldwide ministry that has continued on for many, many years. And after you prayed and gave your life to Jesus Christ, in an interview, Louie, you said, I got off my knees and somehow I knew I was through getting drunk. I knew that I forgave all of my guards, including the bird.

And I think proof of that is that I had nightmares every night about the bird since the war, and I haven't had a nightmare since that night. I made my decision for Christ, 1949 till now. Is that still true?

That's true. It has happened in a matter of moments. But, therefore, if any man be in Christ, which can happen in effect. Amen. If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation.

All things that passed away, all things that become new. And that happened for you. And it happened in such a dramatic way that you returned to Japan not to kill the bird, but you wanted to meet him, and you wanted to forgive him. Right?

Exactly. I wanted to face him, but when I got to Sugamo Prison, I spoke to all the war criminals, but he wasn't there. And they thought he committed harakiri, and I accepted that until the amnesty was signed, eight years later, and he came out of the hills a free man. Wow.

So he lived many years. So you actually, probably somewhere around this time, wrote a letter that you wanted to give to him. And this is a copy of that letter. Would you like to read it?

Yeah. A letter from Lou Zamperini to Mr. Shiro Watanabe. As a result of my prisoner of war experience under your unwarranted and unreasonable punishment, my post-war life became a nightmare. It was not so much due to the pain and suffering as it was the tension of stress and humiliation that caused me to hate with a vengeance. Under your discipline, my rights not only as a prisoner but also as a human being were stripped from me.

It was a struggle to maintain enough dignity and hope to live until the war's end. The post-war nightmares caused my life to crumble, but thanks to a confrontation with God through the evangelist Billy Graham, I committed my life to Christ. Love replaced the hate I had for you. Christ said, Forgive your enemies and pray for them. As you probably know, I returned to Japan in 1952, was graciously allowed to adjust all the Japanese war criminals at Sugamo Prison. I asked them about you and was told that you probably had committed harakiri, which I was sad to hear.

At that moment, like the others, I also forgave you and now would hope that you would also become a Christian. You know, Louie, the amazing thing about you is it's almost as though you've lived three or four lives. There's Louie Zamperini, the Olympic athlete who shook Hitler's hand. Louie Zamperini, the World War II vet who fought for his country and set a record at sea on a life raft. Louie Zamperini, who survived a concentration camp.

Louie Zamperini, the man who came through alcoholism, committed his life to Christ, and was willing to forgive the man who did this horrible thing to him. How is it that you could forgive someone? Because there's people here right now that have been wronged in life. I doubt anyone has been as hurt as you have been, but they feel that that person doesn't deserve forgiveness, yet you extended forgiveness.

How were you able to do that? Well, there's a number of reasons. First of all, I spoke at a day school and I told the girls in the audience that they want to age quickly and get wrinkles and gray hair and hate somebody. And I said, when you hate somebody, you're not hurting them, you're hurting yourself. I got a letter a week later and a young lady said, when you left the school, I went to a girl that I've hated for two years and asked her to forgive me and now we're the best of friends.

Now hate can destroy. I didn't know that at the time. All I knew was that Christ forgave me for my rotten sins and he could forgive the bird for his. But he forgave me and asked me to forgive my enemies.

It was easy. Hey everybody, this is Greg Laurie and you've just been listening to a classic message from Harvest Ministries. This podcast is supported by Harvest Partners. To learn more and to find out how you can become a Harvest Partner, just go to
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-26 11:19:10 / 2023-03-26 11:26:08 / 7

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