Exemplar – September 11, 2015 Fact Sheet

U.S. Air Force Fact Sheet


The Cadet Exemplar Program is an avenue for each Academy class to honor and identify with a past military giant, alive or dead. It is designed to link our nation’s rich heritage with our boundless future. As such, the heroes who are chosen epitomize the personal characteristics that each class of cadets seeks to emulate.

The goal of the Cadet Exemplar Program is to build officers with a strong foundation in our nation’s and our military’s heritage in order to advance into the future as a united aerospace force. Past class exemplars have included Gen. Carl Spaatz, Lt. Gen. Jimmy Doolittle, Brig. Gen. William “Billy” Mitchell and Capt. Lance P. Sijan.

The selected class exemplar not only becomes the cadets’ honorary class leader, but also the very namesake and identity of that particular class. Throughout the cadets’ career, the Exemplar becomes the focal point of inspiration for the cadets as they prepare for their roles as Air Force officers and future leaders.

In short, the Cadet Exemplar Program strives to form unbreakable unity between past leaders and today’s future leaders so that the critical values of Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do will continue to prosper at the Air Force Academy and in the nation as a whole.

To build officers with a strong foundation in our country and our military’s heritage in order to advance into the future as a united Aerospace Force

The Exemplar Dinner is the 2nd Milestone and this dinner is celebrated in the fall of the C3C year, scheduled for the Class of 2018 on September 11, 2015.

The 2018 Spirit Mission Milestone Committee will support this event with the presentation of a challenge coin to all C3C cadets.

The Class of 2018 Exemplar

On March 14 2015, Captain Louis Zamperini (January 26, 1917 – July 2, 2014) was named as the Class of 2018 Exemplar.  Throughout the cadets’ career, the exemplar is their inspiration as they prepare for their role as Air Force officers and future leaders.

A son of Italian immigrants, Louis Zamperini (1917-2014) was a U.S. Olympic runner (a top American miler in the vintage era of middle-distance racing before World War II), World War II bombardier, and POW survivor (became one of America’s most famous wartime heroes after surviving extreme deprivation on a life raft and in captivity under the Japanese). After the war, he returned to the United States to found the Victory Boys Camp for at-risk youth and became an inspirational speaker. Zamperini’s story was told in his 2003 autobiography Devil at My Heels, as well as in Laura Hillenbrand’s 2010 biography Unbroken.  A Hollywood movie based on the book, directed by Angelina Jolie, was released on December 25, 2014.  Please see this link, http://www.louiszamperini.net, and many others for more information about Louis Zamperini.

Olympic career

In 1936, Zamperini decided to try out for the Olympics. In those days, athletes had to pay their way to the Olympic Trials, but since his father worked for the railroad, Louis could get a train ticket for free. A group of Torrance merchants raised enough money for the local hero to live on once he got there. The 1,500 metres was stacked that year with eventual silver medalist Glenn CunninghamArchie San Romani and Gene Venzke all challenging to get on the team.

Zamperini chose to run the 5,000 metres. On one of the hottest days of the year in Randalls Island, New York, the race saw co-favorite Norm Bright and several others collapse during the race. It was reported that 40 people died from the heat in Manhattan alone that week.  With a sprint finish at the end, Zamperini finished in a dead-heat tie against American record-holder Don Lash  and qualified for the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany. At 19 years, 178 days, Zamperini is still the youngest American qualifier ever in the 5,000 meters.

Neither Zamperini nor Lash was believed to have much chance of winning the 1936 Olympics 5000-meter race against world record holder Lauri Lehtinen. Zamperini later related several anecdotes from his Olympic experience, including gorging himself on the boat trip to Europe: “I was a Depression-era kid who had never even been to a drugstore for a sandwich”, he said. “And all the food was free. I had not just one sweet roll, but about seven every morning, with bacon and eggs. My eyes were like saucers.” By the end of the trip, Zamperini, in common with most athletes on the ship, had gained a good deal of weight: in Zamperini’s case, 12 pounds (5 kg). While the weight gain was not advantageous for his running, it was necessary for his health, as he had lost 15 pounds (7 kg) while training in the summer heat in New York for the Olympic Trials.

Zamperini finished eighth in the 5000-meter distance event at that Olympics, but his final lap of 56 seconds was fast enough to catch the attention of Adolf Hitler, who insisted on a personal meeting.  As Zamperini tells the story, Hitler shook his hand, and said simply “Ah, you’re the boy with the fast finish.”

Military career and prisoner of war

Japanese-occupied Nauru Island under attack by Liberator bombers of the Seventh Air Corps, April 1943.

Zamperini examines a hole in his B-24D Liberator Super Man made by a 20mm shell over Nauru.

Zamperini enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps in September 1941 and earned a commission as a second lieutenant. He was deployed to the Pacific island of Funafuti as a bombardier on the Consolidated B-24 Liberator bomber Super Man. In April 1943, during a bombing mission against the Japanese-held island of Nauru, the bomber was badly damaged in combat. With Super Man no longer flight-worthy, and a number of the crew injured, the healthy crew members were transferred to Hawaii to await reassignment. Zamperini, along with some other former Super Man crewmates, was assigned to conduct a search for a lost aircraft and crew. They were given another B-24, The Green Hornet, notorious among the pilots as a defective “lemon“. On May 27, 1943, while on the search, mechanical difficulties caused the bomber to crash into the ocean 850 miles (1,370 km) south of Oahu, killing eight of the 11 men aboard.

The three survivors (Zamperini and his crewmates, pilot Russell Allen “Phil” Phillips and Francis “Mac” McNamara), with little food and no water, subsisted on captured rainwater and small fish eaten raw. They caught two albatrosses, which they ate, and used pieces as bait to catch fish, all while fending off constant shark attacks and nearly being capsized by a storm.  They were strafed multiple times by a Japanese bomber, which punctured their life raft, but no one was hit. McNamara died after 33 days at sea.

On their 47th day adrift, Zamperini and Phillips reached land in the Marshall Islands and were immediately captured by the Japanese Navy.  They were held in captivity, severely beaten, and mistreated until the end of the war in August 1945. Initially held at Kwajalein Atoll, after 42 days they were transferred to the Japanese prisoner-of-war camp at Ōfuna, for captives who were not registered as prisoners of war (POW). Zamperini was later transferred to Tokyo’s Ōmori POW camp, and was eventually transferred to the Naoetsu POW camp in northern Japan, where he stayed until the war ended. He was tormented by prison guard Mutsuhiro “Bird” Watanabe, who was later included in General Douglas MacArthur‘s list of the 40 most wanted war criminals in Japan. Held at the same camp was then-Major Greg “Pappy” Boyington, and in his book, Baa Baa Black Sheep, he discusses Zamperini and the Italian recipes Zamperini would write to keep the prisoners’ minds off the food and conditions. Zamperini had at first been declared missing at sea, and then, a year and a day after his disappearance, KIA. When he eventually returned home, he received a hero’s welcome.

Post-war life

Zamperini married Cynthia Applewhite in 1946, to whom he remained married until her death in 2001. Also, Torrance Airport, in his California hometown, was renamed Zamperini Field in his honor, on the fifth anniversary of the Attack on Pearl Harbor.

In a televised interview on the Christian Broadcasting Network in 2003, Zamperini related that after the war, he had nightmares about strangling his former captors and began drinking heavily, trying to forget his experiences as a POW.  His wife Cynthia attended one of the evangelical crusades led by Billy Graham in Los Angeles, and became a born-again Christian.  In 1949, at the encouragement of his wife and her Christian friends, Zamperini reluctantly agreed to attend a crusade. Graham’s preaching reminded him of his prayers during his time on the life raft and imprisonment, and Zamperini recommitted his life to Christ. Following this, he forgave his captors, and his nightmares ceased.

Later Graham helped Zamperini launch a new career as a Christian inspirational speaker. One of his recurring themes was forgiveness, and he visited many of the guards from his POW days to let them know that he had forgiven them. This included an October 1950 visit to Sugamo Prison in Tokyo, where many war criminals were imprisoned, in which Zamperini embraced those who stepped forward to acknowledge that they recognized him, and expressed forgiveness to them. Zamperini told CBN that some became Christians in response.

Louis Zamperini Plaza on the campus of University of Southern California

Four days before his 81st birthday in January 1998, Zamperini ran a leg in the Olympic Torch relay for the Winter Olympics in NaganoJapan, not far from the POW camp where he had been held. While there, he attempted to meet with his chief and most brutal tormentor during the war, Mutsuhiro Watanabe, who had evaded prosecution as a war criminal, but Watanabe refused to see him.  In March 2005, Zamperini returned to Germany to visit the Berlin Olympic Stadium for the first time since he had competed there.

Zamperini Stadium at Torrance High School

Torrance High School‘s home football, soccer, and track stadium is called Zamperini Stadium, and the entrance plaza at USC‘s track & field stadium was named Louis Zamperini Plaza in 2004. He received numerous additional honors and awards. (See honors and awards.) In his 90s, Zamperini continued to attend USC football games, and he befriended star quarterback Matt Barkley in 2009.

Zamperini appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on June 7, 2012, speaking about his life in general, the 1936 Olympics, and his World War II exploits.

At the time of his death, Zamperini resided in Hollywood, California.

NOTE: All above information is taken from Wikipedia


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