Honoring Olympian, bombardier, POW survivor
January 18, 2013
U.S. ARMY KWAJALEIN ATOLL, Marshall Islands - Louis S. Zamperini's story is one of service, sacrifice, perseverance and forgiveness, said Commanding General, U.S. Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command, Lt. Gen. Richard Formica, Wednesday at the dining facility dedication at U.S. Army Kwajalein Atoll. Formica was the presiding official at the ceremony, which renamed Café Pacific the "Captain Louis S. Zamperini Dining Facility."
For a moment in time, Zamperini's life connected right here with Kwajalein. He survived 47 days drifting in the Pacific Ocean, followed by 42 days of intense interrogations on Kwajalein, which was known then as "Execution Island." He then survived two years as a Japanese Prisoner of War. The dining facility on Kwajalein will not be the first place named for Zamperini.
"Today, at U.S. Army Kwajalein Atoll, we will add another place to the list of locations bearing his name," Formica said during his address. "Our intent is to inspire current and future generations of Soldiers and civilians who serve here at Kwajalein with the spirit of service, sacrifice, perseverance, commitment and character embodied by Captain Louis Zamperini."
Kwajalein residents and distinguished guests gathered in front of the dining facility Wednesday for the unveiling of the new building sign and Zamperini plaque and mural placed inside. Distinguished visitors included: Republic of the Marshall Islands President Christopher Loeak; RMI First Lady, Lieoem Anono Loeak; Minister in Assistance to the President, Tony deBrum; Foreign Minister of the RMI, Phillip Muller, and his wife, Yolanda; Kwajalein Senators Michael Kabua and Jeban Riklon; Chief Secretary Casten Nemra; and U.S. Ambassador to the RMI, Thomas Armbruster.
Muller was the first guest speaker of the day.
"President Loeak and his delegation are delighted to join you here today," he began. "It is people like the man that we honor today … who gives us hope for when things get tough. … The dedication and naming of this facility after this heroic man is most fitting and proper."
Muller recognized all the men and women who have served their countries and, like Zamperini, are courageous and selfless.
"Perhaps I may suggest that … in the future, if there is a chance, that the command can work with the RMI government to name and dedicate one of the facilities after a Marshallese of similar distinction, especially the brave ancestors of our iroijes today," Muller said. "I know that the friendship and close relationship between our two governments and peoples remains strong and will endure long into the future. The RMI is proud to be a partner in this mutual defense cooperation. We will continue to value this special relationship."
The RMI government recessed their parliament in order to make the trip to Kwajalein for the dedication and to visit with Formica.
Armbruster spoke next, highlighting the similarities between Zamperini's character and the Marshallese.
"We're here to celebrate an American hero. … The qualities we admire in Louis Zamperini -- determination, resilience, resourcefulness -- are also qualities that have allowed the Marshallese people to thrive on these narrow strips of land."
Armbruster said it appealed to him to be able to share the story of Zamperini with Marshallese friends who understand the perils of the sea and what it means to never give up.
"World War II taught us that there is no isolation from the world. … The Marshalls are considered remote, but there was no escape from the war." In the end, that's what Louis Zamperini's example teaches us, Armbruster said. "There are no insurmountable problems. If he can become an Olympic athlete, survive brutal captivity and survive at sea, what problem, what challenges are too big for us? None."
Formica closed the ceremony by recounting Zamperini's life tale and how he was able to overcome, despite dismal odds. The plaque, sign and mural were unveiled for the community and visitors to see. Formica visited Zamperini and his family Jan. 18 and delivered a DVD of the dedication ceremony.