Louis Zamperini at The National WWII Museum in 2011
This week marks the release of Angelina Jolie’s film about Louis Zamperini based on Laura Hillenbrand’s 2010 bestseller, Unbroken. Mr. Zamperini shared his emotional story with the Museum in the form of an oral history in 2011. It can be viewed in our Digital Collection.
Zamperini, an Olympic track runner, served as a bombardier in the 307th Bombardment Group, 7th Air Force, flying B-24 Liberators in the Pacific. Zamperini’s aircraft went down in the Pacific and he and the two other survivors from his crew were adrift for 47 days. Captured and tortured by the Japanese, he survived the war, regaining freedom on August 20, 1945. Zamperini was one of the 34,648 Americans held prisoner by the Japanese during WWII. Nearly 40% of those men died in captivity, a staggering 12,935 lives lost.
Read more about the Museum’s collection Pacific Theater POW artifacts and the story of the Ofuna Roster. Visit the Museum on Wednesday, January 21, 2015 for a Lunchbox Lecture on the Ofuna Roster and the ties to Unbroken and Zamperini’s story.
Seventy years ago, on 30 November 1944, the “Kriegies”– short for Kriegsgefangener, German for POW– in Stalag Luft IV celebrated Thanksgiving. They used the traditional date of the 30th of November (for more on this see the previous post on “Franksgiving”). Naturally, this issue of Kriegie Kronikle spotlighted the work of the “Chow Chuckers,” the men who “perform the tasks which are inevitable & necessary in unpacking, sorting, repacking & loading of the chow we all idolize (the word is a masterpiece of understatement!).”
Gift of the Family of Willard Charles Miller, 2012.388
On 27 May 1942, the first of seven films in the series Why We Fight was released. Entitled “Prelude to War,” the piece was directed by noted filmmaker Frank Capra who had by then already gained fame with his work on films It Happened One Night and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and would go on to direct the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life. For his contributions to the war effort, Capra earned the Distinguished Service Medal in 1945.
An immigrant from Sicily, Capra served in the US Army during World War I and became naturalized shortly thereafter. He reenlisted after Pearl Harbor, offered a commission as a Major at the age of 44. Under normal circumstances, the Signal Corps would have likely been assigned the creation of these films, but with a talent like Capra available, Chief of Staff George Marshall bypassed the Signal Corps and assigned Major Capra the job of creating seven films that would be seen less as propaganda pieces, and more as the inspiring films Capra had proven himself more than capable of making.
The first of the series introduces itself as a film “to acquaint members of the Army with factual information as to the causes, the events leading up to our entry into the war and the principles for which we are fighting.” Prelude to War won the 1942 Academy Award for documentary feature. Many of the subsequent films in the series would use the enemy’s own propaganda films, namely Leni Reifenstahl’s infamous Triumph of the Will. What Germans saw in her film as inspiring and patriotic, Capra turned on its head to show as a frightening force against which America must fight.
The National WWII Museum tells the story of the American Experience in the war that changed the world - why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today - so that all generations will understand the price of freedom and be inspired by what they learn.