Louis Zamperini’s record in the mile earned as a USC track star stood for 20 years. After he ran for his country in the Berlin Olympics of 1936, he had the dubious honor of meeting Adolph Hitler. But when his B-24 Liberator crashed in the Pacific during WWII, many thought a promising life was cut short.
“Talk about a miracle,” Zamperini says today at age 94. Stationed in Hawaii during WWII, Zamperini volunteered to search for a plane and its crew that disappeared one day in late May, 1943.
His concern about the plane was confirmed when one of its engines sputtered and died during the search mission, which sent all aboard into a steep dive and a violent crash into the sea. Trapped inside the fuselage by wires from the electrical system, his ears popped and pressure inside his head intensified until he blacked out.
The plane sank deeper and deeper with Louis trapped inside. Like Jonah ensnared in the belly of the whale with seaweed wrapped around him, Louis couldn’t free himself from the wiry tenacles.