Birthday: January 26, 1917
Died At Age: 97
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Born in: Olean, New York
Famous as: Prisoner of War Survivor
Spouse/Ex-: Cynthia Applewhite
father: Anthony Zamperini
mother: Louise Dossi
siblings: Pete Zamperini
children: Cissy Zamperini, Luke Zamperini
Died on: July 2, 2014
place of death: Los Angeles
U.S. State: New Yorkers
education: University of Southern California, Torrance High School
Louis Zamperini was an Olympic athlete and a US prisoner of war survivor (World War II), who later became a Christian evangelist. Being born into a non-English speaking family in the United States of America started out as a struggle for Louis Zamperini. However, he overcame the difficulties and neglect from his peers through focusing on running. His interest towards running led to his enrolment in the school track team. An outstanding performer in long distance running, Louis Zamperini went on to compete the 1936 Summer Olympics and had planned to compete in the 1940 Olympic Games as well. However with the onset of the World War II, the games were cancelled and he enrolled into the US Army Air Corps. He was in a plane that crashed into the Pacific Ocean and though he survived the crash, he was taken prisoner of war by the Japanese army. Louis Zamperini was released after the war ended two years later. Upon his return to the United States, he began his career as a Christian evangelist. His life has been an inspiration to many and a number of books, documentaries and feature films have been based upon his life story.
Childhood & Early Life
Louis Zamperini was born on 26 January 1917 at Olean, New York. His parents, father Anthony Zamperini and mother Louise Dossi were from Italy. He was the couple’s second child. Louis Zamperini had an older brother named Pete and sisters named Sylvia and Virginia.
In 1919, Louis Zamperini along with his family moved to California. He attended the Torrance High School. None of his family members spoke English, and his inability to speak the language made him a target for bullying in school. This led to his father teaching him boxing as a means of self defense.
Upon his brother’s instructions, Louis Zamperini joined the school track team and by the end of his freshman year he came fifth in the All City division for small kids. This encouraged him to give up delinquent habits and work towards becoming an athlete.
He is known to have completed his college education at the University of Southern California in 1940.
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He took up running from his brother and in 1932 began competing with his first cross country race. During the three years that followed, Louis Zamperini won many races and emerged undefeatable. In 1934, he set the world interscholastic record for the mile run, by running in 4.21.2 minutes during the preliminary rounds of the California State Championships. He won the California State Meet championships that year. This victory earned him a scholarship at the University of Southern California.
In the year 1936, he tried to qualify for the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin and chose to run the 5000 metres long distance event and finally qualified to participate at the summer Olympics. He is still the youngest American to qualify for the 5000 meter race. He however finished eighth in the event. Nevertheless, he finished his final lap in 56 seconds, and this caught the attention of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.
Of Upon returning to USA, he enrolled at the University of Southern California. There he set the national collegiate mile record of 4.08 minutes in 1938. This record remained unbeaten for fifteen years and he earned the nickname ‘Torrance Tornado’.
In 1941 Louis Zamperini enlisted in the Unites States Army Air Corps as a lieutenant after the 1940 Olympics was cancelled due to the onset of World War II. He was a bombardier at the B-24 Liberator and posted at the Pacific island of Funafuti. In May 1943, while over the Pacific Ocean Louis Zamperini’s plane had a mechanical failure and crashed into the ocean. He survived the crash with two other men and was stranded on a raft for 47 days. One of the three persons died while Louis Zamperini and the other survivor who was the pilot Russell Allen Philips reached the shore that happened to be enemy territory in Japan. They were soon taken as prisoners and subjected to torture.
While being held a captive, he was a victim of severe psychological and physical abuse. He was held prisoner for almost two years and during this time declared dead by the United States military. In 1945, after the World War ended, he was released and returned to the United States.
Upon his return to the United States, he went through a tough phase in his life, constantly haunted by nightmares related to his experience of being a prisoner of war. This led him to become an alcoholic. In 1949, upon his wife’s insistence, Louis Zamperini attended an evangelic crusade and he recommitted himself to Christ along with forgiving his tormentors. In course of time, he began his occupation as a Christian evangelist. He believed in the power of forgiveness and is known to have met several of the guards from the days when he was held prisoner to convey to them that he had forgiven them. He also made a trip to the Sugamo prison in Japan in 1950 for this purpose.
In the year 1998, Louis Zamperini ran a leg at the Winter Olympics Torch relay in Japan. He is known to have attended the USC football games even during his 90’s.
Louis Zamperini had written two books that are a collection of his experiences. The first book ‘Devil at My Heels: The Story of Louis Zamperini’ was co-written by Helen Itria and published in 1956. The second book, an updated version of the first was titled ‘Devil at My Heels: A World War II Hero's Epic Saga of Torment, Survival, and Forgiveness’ and was written along with David Rensin. This book was published in 2003.
Personal Life & Legacy
Louis Zamperini married Cynthia Applewhite in 1946. They had a daughter named Cissy and son named Luke.
In 2014, Louis Zamperini died of pneumonia at his house in Los Angeles. He was 97 years old at that time.
In 2010, Louis Zamperini shared his encounters with author Laura Hillenbrand and it was published as a book titled ‘Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption’. This best-seller book won many awards and earned much appreciation. In 2014, a feature film was made based on the book with the title ‘Unbroken’.