Mitchell Zuckoff

  • Aired:  06/22/11
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Mitchell Zuckoff recounts the rescue of WWII soldiers stranded with cannibals in New Guinea after a plane crash. (6:54)

>> Jon: WELCOME BACK.

MY GUEST TONIGHT IS A JOURNALISM

PROFESSOR AT BOSTON UNIVERSITY,

ALSO AN AUTHOR.

HIS LATEST BOOK IS CALLED "LOST

IN SHANGRI-LA: A TRUE STORY OF

SURVIVOR, ADVENTURE AND THE MOST

INCREDIBLE RESCUE STORY OF WORLD

WAR II."

PLEASE WELCOME MITCHELL ZUCKOFF.

[APPLAUSE]

THANK YOU FOR BEING HERE.

>> THANK YOU, JON.

>> Jon: THIS IS AN INCREDIBLE

STORY.

"LOST IN SHANGRI-LA" ABOUT SOME

SOLDIER CENTERS WORLD WAR II WHO

ARE STRANDED IN NEW GUINEA AFTER

A PLANE CRASH.

>> YES.

>> Jon: NOW YOU CAME ACROSS

THIS WHEN YOU WERE READING AN

ARTICLE IN AN OLD NEWSPAPER.

>> CORRECT.

>> Jon: WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO

FIND OUT THAT THERE WAS A TIME

WHERE PEOPLE READ NEWSPAPERS?

[LAUGHTER]

>> OH, IT WAS VERY EXCITING FOR

SOMEONE LIKE ME.

>> Jon: SURE, SURE.

>> IT WAS LIKE GOING IN A TIME

CAPSULE.

>> Jon: ABSOLUTELY, YES.

>> WONDERFUL.

>> Jon: SO 20... HOW MANY

PEOPLE WERE ON THE PLANE?

>> 24.

>> Jon: 21 OF THEM PASSED

AWAY.

>> THAT'S CORRECT.

SO 24 PEOPLE GET ABOARD THE

GREMLIN SPECIAL LEAVING NEW

GUINEA TOWARDS THE END OF WORLD

WAR II.

>> Jon: RIGHT.

>> THE IDEA IS TO FLY OVER THIS

VALLEY WHERE THEY DIDN'T KNOW A

VALLEY EXISTED UNTIL A YEAR

BEFORE, HOPING TO SEE CANNIBAL

TRIEDMEN, STONE-AGED CANNIBALS

LIVING IN A PRY IN ORDERRAL

STATE.

THE IDEA WAS A THREE-HOUR TOUR.

>> Jon: WHAT COULD GO WRONG

WITH A THREE-HOUR TOUR?

[LAUGHTER]

PERFECT.

>> AND TRAGICALLY THE PLANE

CRASHED, LEAVING ONLY THREE

SURVIVORS.

>> Jon: SO THE SURVIVORS ARE

VERY FEARFUL THAT THEY'RE ABOUT

TO ENCOUNTER HEAD HUNTERS AND

CANNIBALS THAT ARE OF LEGEND

SEVEN FEET TALL.

>> YES.

SEVEN FEET TALL, SIN UIE

EXAMPLES OF MANHOOD GROWING PIGS

THE SIZE OF PONIES AND DOING

HUMAN SACRIFICES.

>> Jon: AND THEY RUN INTO GUYS

MY SIZE.

>> YEAH, YEAH.

>> Jon: WHO ARE NAKED.

>> BUT THEY'RE NOT TOTALLY

NAKED.

THEY WORE GOURDS COVERING THEIR

GENITALS.

>> Jon: YES, YOU WERE KIND

ENOUGH TO BRING ONE.

DID YOU TRAVEL TO NEW GUINEA?

>> I DID, I DID.

>> Jon: THIS IS SOMETHING YOU

BROUGHT BACK?

IS THIS A USED GENITAL GOURD?

>> NO, NO.

>> Jon: SO THIS IS FOR YOU,

JON.

THIS IS FOR ME?

WHAT DO YOU THINK I AM, A

CONGRESSMAN?

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

I MEAN, THIS IS HONESTLY, IT'S A

LITTLE BOASTFUL, NO?

IT'S A LITTLE LIKE...

>> I TOLL THEM IT WAS FOR YOU.

YOU'RE VERY BIG IN NEW GUINEA.

>> Jon: WELL, THAT'S VERY

EXCITING.

THANK GOD BECAUSE IN MY HOUSE I

USE PEANUT SHELLS.

SO THEY HAVE THESE GOURDS.

NOW, WHY DIDN'T... WHAT DID THE

TRIBE IN NEW GUINEA THINK OF

THESE THREE PALE-SKINNED

INTERLOPERS?

WHAT DID THEY THINK THEY WERE?

>> WELL, FORTUNATELY FOR THEM

THEY REALIZED THEY WERE NOT

THEIR ENEMIES.

THEY HAD IN THEIR TRIBE A

LEGEND.

IT WAS A PROPHESY THAT SAID,

SOME DAYLIGHT-SKINNED GHOSTS

WOULD COME FROM DOWN A ROPE FROM

THE SKY.

AND THEY THOUGHT THAT THESE

THREE SURVIVORS WERE THE

FULFILLMENT OF THAT PROPHESY.

SO AS A RESULT THAT'S WHY THEY

WEREN'T EATEN RIGHT AWAY.

[LAUGHTER]

>> Jon: DID THE PEOPLE, THE

LIGHT-SKINNED PEOPLE, WHY DIDN'T

THEY TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE FACT

THAT THEY WERE CONSIDERED GODS

FROM THE SKY, BECAUSE IN THE

BOOK THEY JUST KIND OF NOD AND

ARE THANKFUL NOT TO BE EATEN,

BUT BOY IS THAT AN OPPORTUNITY

THAT DOES NOT COME AROUND VERY

OFTEN.

>> SURE.

THEY DIDN'T REALIZE IT.

THEY COULDN'T COMMUNICATE WITH

THESE TRIBES PEOPLE, AND SO THEY

WERE JUST HAPPY THAT THEY WERE

BEING LEFT ALONE AND BEING

PROVIDED FOR AND THEY WERE

LOOKING AFTER THEM WHILE THE

ARMY WAS SCRAMBLING TRYING TO

FIGURE OUR HOW THE RESCUE THEM.

>> Jon: MEANWHILE, THE ARMY

FINDS THEM, BUT THEY CAN'T GET

TO THEM BECAUSE THEY'RE IN THE

MIDDLE OF UNCHARTERED... SO THEY

DROP OTHER PEOPLE IN.

>> YES.

>> Jon: BUT THEN THEY CAN'T

GET THOSE PEOPLE OUT.

>> IT'S AN ARMY PLAN, JON.

SO THEY DROP 11 PARATROOPERS IN,

LED BY A GUY WHO IS STILL

AROUND, A 90-YEAR-OLD GUY EARL

WALTER.

>> Jon: WHO IS LIKE SEVEN FEET

TALL.

>> HE'S LIKE WHAT THEY THOUGHT

THE CANNIBALS WOULD BE.

AN EARL WALTER LEADS THIS TEAM

IN TO PROTECT THEM FROM THE

THOUSANDS OF STONE-AGED

CANNIBALS WHO LIVE THERE IN THIS

VALLEY WHILE THE ARMY IS SAYING,

WELL, WE GOT TO FIGURE OUT SOME

ESCAPE PLAN.

IN THE MEANTIME, LET'S PUT MORE

GUYS IN.

>> SO MEANWHILE, THEY SIT IN THE

JUNGLE WITH THESE GUYS EATING

SPAM AND CANNED BACON FOR LIKE

TWO MONTHS.

>> YEAH, YEAH.

IT WAS ACTUALLY ALMOST LIKE R&R.

>> Jon: CRAZY.

THEN THEY DECIDE, LET'S WALK OUT

OF HERE.

>> RIGHT.

>> Jon: LET'S DPLIED OUT OF

HERE.

>> THEY REALIZE... NEW GUINEA IS

THIS INCREDIBLE TROPICAL JUNGLE.

YOU CAN'T GET OUT OF IT.

SO THEY JUST SAY, WE'RE GOING TO

DO THIS, THIS IS OUR PLAN, WE'LL

BASICALLY DROP STUFF FOR YOU TO

BUILD A MAKESHIFT FOOTBALL

GOALPOST, AND WE'LL STRING A

RUBBER BAND ACROSS THE TOP OF IT

AND WE'LL PUT THAT TO A GLIDER.

AND THEN WE'LL PUT SOME PEOPLE

IN THE GLIDER AND THEN WE'LL

HAVE OTHER PLANES COME, SWEEP

INTO THIS VALLEY.

>> Jon: AT WHAT POINT DID

WILEY COYOTE FIGURE INTO THIS?

>> IT'S AN ACME PLAN.

>> Jon: AND THE NAME OF THIS

GLIDER IS, IF I'M NOT MISTAKEN?

>> THE FANLESS FAG DWOT.

>> SO THEY DECIDE THE CLIMB INTO

THE FAGGOT.

>> YES.

>> Jon: THIS IS THE GREATEST

GENERATION WE'RE TALKING ABOUT.

CONTINUE.

>> TRUE STORY.

SO THESE PLANES WILL SWEEP INTO

THE VALLEY WITH A HOOK AND GO BY

THAT GOALPOST, GRAB THAT RUBBER

BAND AND PULL THAT GLIDER UP AND

OUT AND OVER THE MOUNTAINS.

NOW, WITH THE PEOPLE ON THE

GLIDER DON'T REALIZE IS THAT

THESE GLIDERS HAD A NICKNAME IN

WORLD WAR II, THE FLYING COFFIN.

>> Jon: YES.

>> SO THAT WAS THE ARMY'S RESCUE

PLAN.

>> Jon: AND ODDLY ENOUGH, IT

WORKED.

>> INCREDIBLY.

THAT'S WHY WE CALLED IT THE MOST

INCREDIBLE RESCUE MISSION OF

WORLD WAR II.

>> Jon: THEN YOU TRACKED THESE

PEOPLE.

THEY ALL LED HEALTHY AND

PRODUCTIVE LIVES AND IT'S A

MAGNIFICENT STORY.

YOU'VE NEVER SEEN IT IN A MOVIE

BECAUSE IT DOES SEEM LIKE NO ONE

I THINK WOULD BUY IT.

>> TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE.

>> Jon: IT'S THE KIND OF THING

WHERE THEN THEY SHOT A PLANE OUT

OF A GOALPOST.

RIGHT.

IT'S ABSOLUTELIEN CREDIBLE.

LOST IN SHANGRI-LA IS ON

BOOKSHELVES NOW.

AN INCREDIBLE RESCUE STORY OF

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