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WINTER OLYMPICS 1998 | Zamperini Will Survive This
Too

Former Track Star, POW, Doesn't Get Closure at 81 in His Return to Japan

February 19, 1998|EARL GUSTKEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

" . . . We knew we were headed toward either the Marshalls or the Gilberts, and our biggest fear was we'd drift right between them. After the war, I figured we'd drifted a minimum 1,250 miles to a maximum 1,500.

"We paddled to the nearest of about 15 islands we could see. We got close enough to count the coconuts on the palms. They looked like steaks. . . . Then we saw a Japanese patrol boat fishing, with trolling gear. They picked us up and took us ashore."

Zamperini is now among the fittest octogenarians in America.

Near his Hollywood Hills home, he runs a mile uphill every day.

"I gave up skateboarding last week," he quips.

At the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, he runs a seniors lunch program and counsels troubled teens.

"With a lot of the kids, it's problems getting along with the parents," he said.

"I try to get them to understand some of the pressures of being a parent today, what it's like coping with financial problems . . . that things aren't always going to go the way you want."

Very few of the teens, Zamperini said, know anything of his World War II service.

Some, in fact, have never heard of World War II, he said.

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