Skip to comments.War Hero and 1936 Olympian Louis Zamperini Dies at 97
Posted on 07/03/2014 5:28:21 AM PDT by Skooz
Louis Zamperini, a member of the 1936 U.S. Olympic track and field team who survived repeated torture for two years as a Japanese prisoner of war during World War II, died Wednesday from pneumonia at the age of 97, his family announced.
"After a 40-day long battle for his life, he peacefully passed away in the presence of his entire family, leaving behind a legacy that has touched so many lives. His indomitable courage and fighting spirit were never more apparent than in these last days," his family said in a statement released by Universal Pictures, which will release a movie on Zamperini's life, "Unbroken." It is scheduled to be released Christmas Day.
Angelina Jolie, who directed "Unbroken," called Zamperini's death "a loss impossible to describe."
"We are all so grateful for how enriched our lives are for having known him," Jolie said.
In May, Zamperini was selected to be grand marshal of the 2015 Rose Parade.
Read: Louis Zamperini Named Rose Parade Grand Marshal
Born in 1917 to Italian immigrants, Zamperini moved to Torrance in 1919 and became a world-class distance runner by the time he graduated from Torrance High School, setting a world interscholastic record in the mile.
His track skills won him a scholarship to USC, where he was a member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity.
At age 19, Zamperini qualified to compete in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, finishing eighth in the 5,000 meters, finishing the final lap in 56 seconds and causing Adolf Hitler to request a personal meeting with him.
During World War II, Zamperini became a bombardier and served in the South Pacific.
While on a reconnaissance mission, Zamperini's aircraft crashed into the Pacific Ocean. He and a surviving crewmate spent 47 days adrift on an inflatable raft before being captured by Japanese soldiers when they reached the Marshall Islands.
He was a POW for more than two years, during which time he was frequently beaten and tortured by his captors.
Read: Angelina Jolie Lines Up World War II Drama for Next Directing Project
Zamperini returned to Southern California to a hero's welcome.
Suffering from post traumatic disorder, Zamperini found solace in 1949 when he became a born-again Christian after attending a Los Angeles crusade led by evangelist Billy Graham. He eventually became an inspirational speaker preaching the power of forgiveness.
He practiced what he preached in 1950, when he went to Sugamo Prison in Tokyo -- where Japanese war criminals were being held -- and met with some of his torturers to offer them forgiveness, hugging them in the process.
At age 81, Zamperini -- a five-time Olympic torch-bearer -- ran a leg in the torch relay for the Winter Olympics in Nagano. During his visit, he attempted to meet with his most brutal tormentor during the war, Mutsuhiro Watanabe, but Watanabe --who escaped prosecution as a war criminal -- refused to see him.
In 2005, Zamperini returned to Germany to visit the Berlin Olympic Stadium for the first time since he competed there in 1936.
RIP, Mr. Zamperini.
I agree, I was so inspired by “Unbroken.” RIP.
He eventually became an inspirational speaker preaching the power of forgiveness.
He practiced what he preached in 1950, when he went to Sugamo Prison in Tokyo — where Japanese war criminals were being held — and met with some of his torturers to offer them forgiveness, hugging them in the process.
At age 81, Zamperini — a five-time Olympic torch-bearer — ran a leg in the torch relay for the Winter Olympics in Nagano. During his visit, he attempted to meet with his most brutal tormentor during the war, Mutsuhiro Watanabe, but Watanabe —who escaped prosecution as a war criminal — refused to see him.
What sad news to wake up to. I wish Mr Zamperini could have been present at the premier of the film. What a life he lived. If you haven’t read Unbroken, I highly recommend it. It’s interesting that two women brought his story to light.
I think the world has no idea how much they’re going to miss these men until they’re all gone.
RIP Louis and thank you.
Can't recommend the book highly enough. As I was reading this, knowing Hillenbrand's "Seabiscuit" was treated wonderfully on the screen, I wonder how one could adapt this to the screen, so much happens and it's all important to the story. I hope Jolie pulls this off. We shall see.
One of the finest examples of what made the USA great is gone. We are that much less a country without Louie Zamperini. RIP
It’s also available as an audio book.
We listened to it during the dark evenings of winter while working puzzles.
Really well done!
I lowered my flag to half mast. Isn’t it amazing this hero died one day before July 4th? Flags should be flown at half mast from now on every time a WW2 vet dies which is every day which is why I am leaving it like that until I learn the last one is gone. WW2 ended 69 years ago which would make the youngest WW2 vet 86 now if he joined at age 17 in 1945. A few years from now they could all be gone.