Louis Zamperini, Inspiration For “Unbroken” Has Died


World War II hero Louis Zamperini has died at age 97. A statement released included a message from his family: “Having overcome insurmountable odds at every turn in his life, Olympic runner and World War II hero Louis Zamperini had never broken down from a challenge. His indomitable courage and fighting spirit were never more apparent than in these last days.”

Angelina Jolie, who directed the 2014 film about his life based on the best-selling book “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand, immediately expressed her condolences. “It is a loss impossible to describe. We are all so grateful for how enriched our lives are for having known him,” she said.

Born in January 1917 in Olean, N.Y. to Italian immigrant parents, Zamperini and his family moved to Torrance, Calif., when he was a child. He was a member of the 1936 U.S. Olympic track team in Berlin running the 5,000 meters. At 19, he was the youngest American qualifier ever in that event.  In 1941, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force and was later deployed to the Pacific as a bombardier on a B-24 Liberator bomber. The story of “Unbroken,” is set in 1943, and follows Zamperini as his Air Force plane crashes in the Pacific. He and two others survived without food and water for 47 days before washing ashore on a Japanese island behind enemy lines, where he was held as a prisoner of war for two years.

Zamperini was first declared missing at sea and then killed in action, but after the war was over he returned to his family in America with a hero’s welcome. On his 81st birthday, in January 1988, the former athlete returned to Japan and ran a leg in the Olympic Torch relay for the Winter Olympics in Nagano.

Zamperini recalled that Hillenbrand, in researching the book, asked to interview his friends from college and the Army. “And now after the book was finished all of my college buddies are dead, all of my war buddies are dead. It’s sad to realize that you’ve lost all your friends,” he said. “But I think I made up for it. I made a new friend — Angelina Jolie. And the gal really loves me, she hugs me and kisses me, so I can’t complain.”


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