Unbroken: Louis Zamperini’s journey in Google Earth

Last year, Laura Hillenbrand released a book titled “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption“, based on the life of Louis Zamperini (details on Amazon). The book has been very popular, quickly becoming a best-seller and recently being picked up by Universal Studios to be turned into a movie.

The life of Zamperini is amazing, and the book is excellent. Zamperini, a world-class runner that competed in the Berlin Olympics in 1936, is drafted into World War II. He fights a number of missions before his plane goes down and he’s trapped in a raft at sea. After 46 days at sea, he floats into the Japanese-controlled Marshall Islands, and he’s placed in various POW camps for the next few years.

In reading the book about his journey, I realized that it would pretty cool to track down his various missions and POW camps in Google Earth. I was right! However, I was unable to find a decent timeline of his life, so I spent a few hours researching it and created one myself. After that, I did more research to find all of those locations in Google Earth and ended up with a pretty cool file.


The file includes locations from his early days (homes, school), the various places he went for military training, the Pacific missions he completed, the POW camps he was placed in, and the various stops on his journey home. You can download the KMZ file here to try it for yourself.

[File updated 1/10/11 with his home address in Olean, NY — thanks Alec]

[File updated 2/14/11 with a more precise location for Naoetsu — thanks David]

I had hoped that historical imagery might come into play with this, but the old imagery in the Pacific and Japan doesn’t go back nearly far enough (as opposed to Europe, where many locations have historical imagery dating back to the mid-1940’s). However, one good example was Hamilton Field, where he stopped over on his way to Hawaii. The present-day imagery no longer shows a runway, but if you switch to the 1993 imagery you can clearly see the runway still there.


All of that being said, I’m sure the file isn’t perfect. If you make any corrections to it, please email me the updated version (mickey@gearthblog.com) and I’ll update this post.

So, have you read the book? What did you think of it?

About Mickey Mellen

Mickey has been using Google Earth since it was released in 2005, and has created a variety of geo-related sites including Google Earth Hacks. He runs a web design firm in Marietta, GA, where he lives with his wife and two kids.

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.


  1. kwiltmakr says:

    You have Mr. Zamperini’s birth place as Oleans, NY it is in fact Olean, no s on the end of it.

  2. @kwiltmakr — Good catch! I had it correct in the file and other places, but misspelled it on the “update”. It’s fixed now. Thanks!

  3. How do you open this file? I have windows xp and can’t open it. I so want to see it. Mr. Zamperini was born not very far from where I was born. Thanks

  4. @kwiltmakr – It’s a Google Earth file, and should open automatically for you. Do you have Google Earth installed?

  5. No I don’t so I figured that was the problem but wasn’t sure. Thanks

  6. Your map was wrong in not display the dead end of evergreen avenue singapore and your map just shown arrow turning to primrose avenue. You may need to updates

  7. Christian Mani says:

    What and unbelievable story! I could not put the book down, and I marvel at the bravery these men exhibited.
    I grew up near Hamilton Field in a town called Novato, the Northern most city in Marin County California. I used to watch air shows there as a kid in the mid to late 1970’s. Anyway, my father, John Mani, while mayor of Novato in the early 2000’s, spearheaded the transformation of Hamilton Air force Base into market rate housing, parks and sport fields, and multi use buildings. The 10,000 foot runways were flooded and turned into a wetlands area.

  8. Tim Pike says:

    I too simply could not stop reading this book! How could one human being survive so much. It was one spirit killing event after another for him.. Unbroken is truly a title that couldn’t have summed it up better!

  9. Wonderful book. Is Louis still living. I doubt it. When did he die?

  10. Mickey says:

    John — Yep, he’s still living! 94 and counting…

  11. Unbroken is a page turner rivaling Sieg Larsson’s trilogy about Dragon Tattooed Lisbeth Salander.

  12. Awesome Map. The only other thing that would be cool to add is to number his Journey from crash site through POW camps. I can’t remember the order. Like to see where the Bird resided.

  13. Oh, Never mind, I see the dropdown Menu. Awesome Job.

  14. Terry Debay says:

    Does Louis have a website…?
    I /we met Louie in 1952 at a speaking engagement at Angeles Temple, in downtown Los Angeles…in November, of 1952!
    Bob Heydenfeldt and myself, Terry Debay were sophomore Christian football players at UCLA and after the USC-UCLA football game…on Saturday… we joined Louie on stage at Angeles Temple…to share our testimony (which paled by comparison!) We are now 78 years old and Louie is 94! Wow! We would love to find out how to contact him!
    Thank you for your directions! Lv ter! & Bob!

  15. Dudus Maximus says:

    http://www.louiezamperini.com has a way to contact him for speaking engagements.
    Great KMZ file. Well done.

  16. I’m curious why you didn’t include the dates / year in each placemark?

  17. I was in the USAF, Feb 1 1955, met 4 survivors of Bataan. A M/SGT a Doctor (at that time CO of 5001st USAF Hosp in Fairbanks, Alaska)both were on the Death March. The two nurses that were taken prisoner on Batann but were not subjected to the forced walked. One was our Flight Nurse the other was a Lt/Col Head Nurse.
    I never heard any of them speak of their imprisonment and we never asked.
    This book gave a description of the treatment they endured. I now wonder how they functioned so well the remaining time of service, wish I would have known how bad it really was. All 4 were the kindest people anyone would want to know.

    • Jackie Rackley says:

      There is a book about the nurses in the Philippines during the war and captivity. It is “We Band of Angels and may answer some your questions. Most or probably all have died by now but it was taken from interviews with them. My parents were over there before the war…my mom and sister leaving May, 1941 and my father was killed over there Dec. 1941.

  18. Jim Brown says:

    Amazing story. Can’t put the book down. Louie’s
    will power is something. How many people would have been broken? It also shows how cruel some humans can be. He forgave as Christ forgave. Would we all do that?? What is the movie status?

    • If you haven’t head, Angelina Jolie is directing the movie and the screenplay has been written by the Cohen brothers. Filming will be underway soon and it’s scheduled for release for Christmas 2014. I’m sure Louie will be excited to see the premier.

  19. janelle says:

    i live in Torrance, CA and am trying to find out Louis Zamporini’s next speaking engagement. I have not been able to do so on-line. Could you please tell me a site to go to to get his schedule? Thank you. Janelle

  20. I just finished writing a book about WWII Japanese naval fighter pilots, “The Last Zero Fighter”. I went to Japan and interviewed WWII Japanese serviceman. One of whom was a naval pilot stationed on Taroa Island, Malolelap Atoll, Marshall Islands.
    He talked about seeing downed US aviators.

  21. Pastor Greg Laurie, (Harvest Church – Riverside, CA), has interviewed him several times…here is a link to their site and the interview… http://www.harvest.org/media/webcast-archives.html?speaker=1&series=&event=&keyword=louis

  22. Nice work! I’m still figuring out how to navigate the KMZ data, but this is very interesting to me as I’ve been doing work on a project related to the book. Your timeline has been a useful reference for me too. Thanks.

  23. Thank you. I hope you don’t mind if I link to this page for our school’s Summer Reading Program Resource Website.

  24. Thank you, I just finished reading Unbroken and was looking for a map of Zamperini’s life, the places of POW in Japan. I’ll mention you blog when I’ll write a review.

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.