- Associated Press - Thursday, December 25, 2014

LAPORTE, Ind. (AP) - A LaPorte schoolteacher couldn’t stomach chicken ever again, but that was one of the few telltale signs that suggested what he had endured.

The late Russell Allen Phillips, a World War II pilot and longtime LaPorte resident, spent nearly two months eating raw albatrosses and seagulls that happened to land on a tiny life raft that was besieged by sharks, battered by a typhoon, and nearly sunk by a Zero plane’s strafing machine gun.

Phillips, who was an educator in LaPorte for decades before dying in 1998, and bombardier Louis Zamperini, survived a number of combat missions, including one where nearly 600 rounds riddled their plane.

After a crash, they spent 47 days adrift in the ocean on a life raft with tail gunner Francis McNamara, who died on the 33rd day. After drifting more than 2,000 miles and washing up on the Marshall Islands, Phillips and Zamperini were captured by the Japanese and imprisoned for two years. Phillips withered down to around 80 pounds.

“He met (his wife) Cecy in Terre Haute before the war and they became engaged before he went off,” longtime family friend Claudia Williams told The Times of Munster (http://bit.ly/1xiwMQn). “She knew his plane crashed, but always felt he was still alive. She just had that feeling.”

Their unbelievable but true-life tale hit movie theaters nationwide on Christmas.

Academy Award-winner Angelina Jolie directed “Unbroken,” an adaptation of “Seabiscuit” author Laura Hillenbrand’s New York Times No. 1 bestseller. Domhall Gleeson, the son of Golden Globe-nominated Irish actor Brendan Gleeson, plays Phillips in the movie.

“Unbroken” is the story of Zamperini, who was Phillips’s best friend and bunkmate. The Southern California native - a long-distance runner known as the Torrance Tornado - ran in 1936 Olympics, did not let beatings and abuse break his will in the prison camp, later became a born-again Christian, and went back to Japan to forgive the guards who tormented him.

Phillips shied away from the limelight. He never talked much about what he endured or his wartime service at all.

“He was quiet and reserved,” said Jerry Williams, who taught with Phillips. “He was thoughtful and caring and a very good teacher.”

Williams first learned what his friend had really suffered through by reading “Unbroken,” which Hillenbrand based partly on Phillips’s war letters in addition to interviews with Zamperini and many other sources. He couldn’t put the book down.

“A lot of people in LaPorte didn’t know anything about what he did,” he said. “The book and now the movie are changing that.”

Phillips was a LaPorte High School and Purdue University graduate who went on to become a lieutenant and pilot in the Army Air Corps. The fateful crash took place during a search and rescue mission when the bomber’s engines failed. Eight of the 11-member crew died on impact.

“He didn’t talk very much about it,” said Joe Otis, who knew Phillips from when he was coaching basketball at LaPorte High School. “But he was the one who put the plane down in the water. You go from 150 mph to zero in a moment. It’s part of the miracle that they even survived the crash.”

___

Information from: The Times, http://www.thetimesonline.com

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide