In 1944, Boys’ Life wrote about the time Zamperini ripped down a swastika flag

When Boys’ Life first wrote about Louis Zamperini, nobody knew whether the American military and sports hero was alive or dead.

In its January 1944 issue, Boys’ Life told of the time in 1936 when Zamperini climbed up a flagpole inside German territory and ripped down a swastika flag as a souvenir.

The fascinating tale of courage and bravado ended with these chilling sentences about Zamperini:

He was in the raid over Nauru Island, where his plane was hit and one of its crew members was killed and he saved the life of another, who would have bled to death but for him. And on May 5 of this year [1943] he was reported missing, and no word has been heard of him since.

We all know the story didn’t end there for Zamperini, who died last week at age 97.

After the plane crash, Zamperini and another crewmate survived 47 days on a life raft at sea. They withstood storms and fended off shark attacks while living on rainwater and raw fish.

Eventually Zamperini was captured by the Japanese Navy and was beaten regularly until his release at the end of the war. Presumed dead, Zamperini later received a hero’s welcome and the Purple Heart.

His tale is documented in the bestselling book Unbroken; the movie based on the book is due out this Christmas.

Stealing the swastika flag

Before he was a prisoner of war, Louis Zamperini did something “every American boy would give anything in this world to do some day”: He ripped a swastika flag from its pole inside Nazi Germany.

The story, documented in full by Boys’ Life, shares how in addition to bringing home some medals from the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Zamperini wanted another souvenir.

“Lou had vowed he would bring back … the swastika banner over the headquarters of Adolf Hitler,” the article said.

And so, when the backs of the Storm Troopers guarding the building were turned, he got in, made his way to the roof, shinnied up the flag staff, tore the flag loose and was about to slide down when the Troopers saw him. Some of them fired at him. Others rushed to capture him as he reached the roof. They dragged him before Gen. Werner von Fritsch, Commander of the Wehrmacht.

The commander told him his prank was punishable by death but let him leave. “Don’t be such a fool again,” the commander said.

Zamperini: A Scout, but not an Eagle Scout

In this 2010 interview with Runners’ World, Zamperini said he was an Eagle Scout, “which is probably the reason I could be busted up like I have been and still be healthy.”

While Eagle Scouts everywhere would love to claim Zamperini among our ranks, BSA records show Zamperini was not an Eagle Scout. He was a Boy Scout, though.

Boys’ Life story from 1944

Click each image to enlarge.

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H/T: Thanks to Scouter Dean Wilken for finding this story in the Boys’ Life archives.

About Bryan Wendell 2880 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.