Zamperini at the May 2014 announcement of the 2015 Tournament of Roses Grand Marshal
|Born||Louis Silvie Zamperini
January 26, 1917
Olean, New York, United States
|Died||July 2, 2014
Los Angeles, California, United States
|Occupation||Inspirational speaker, Army aviator|
(m. 1946–2001; her death)
Louis Silvie "Louie" Zamperini (January 26, 1917 – July 2, 2014) was an American World War II prisoner of war survivor, inspirational speaker, and Olympic distance runner. In 2010 Laura Hillenbrand wrote a best-selling book about his experiences, which was adapted into film in 2014, Unbroken, directed by Angelina Jolie, adapted by the Coen brothers, and with Jack O'Connell playing Zamperini.
Zamperini was born January 26, 1917, in Olean, New York, to Italian immigrants Anthony Zamperini and Louise Dossi. He had an older brother named Pete and two younger sisters, Virginia and Sylvia. The family moved to Torrance, California in 1919, where Louis attended Torrance High School. Zamperini and his family spoke no English when they moved to California, making him a target for bullies. His father taught him how to box in self-defense. Soon he claimed to be "beating the tar out of every one of them..... but [he] was so good at it that [he] started relishing the idea of getting even. [He] was sort of addicted to it."
To counteract Louis' knack for getting into trouble, his older brother Pete got him involved in the school track team. In 1934, Zamperini set a world interscholastic record for the mile, clocking in at 4:21.2 minutes at the preliminary meet to the California state championships. The following week he won the championships with a 4:27.8 minutes. That record helped him win a scholarship to the University of Southern California and eventually a place on the 1936 United States Olympic team in the 5000 meters. At 19 he was the youngest American qualifier ever in that event. While attending USC, Zamperini was a member of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity and lived in the fraternity house.
|Height||5 feet 11 inches (180 cm)|
|Event(s)||5000 metres/1500 metres|
|College team||University of Southern California|
In the Olympic trials at Randall's Island, Zamperini finished in a dead heat tie against American record-holder Don Lash and qualified for the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany, although neither he nor Lash were believed to have much chance of winning the 5000-meter race against world record holder Lauri Lehtinen. Zamperini has related several anecdotes from his Olympic experience, including gorging himself on the boat trip to Europe: "I was a Depression-era kid who had never even been to a drugstore for a sandwich", he said. "And all the food was free. I had not just one sweet roll, but about seven every morning, with bacon and eggs. My eyes were like saucers.” By the end of the trip, Zamperini, in common with most athletes on the ship, had gained a good deal of weight: in Zamperini's case, 12 pounds. While the weight gain was not advantageous for his running, it was necessary for his health, as he had lost 15 pounds while training in the summer heat in New York for the Olympic Trials.
Zamperini finished eighth in the 5000-meter distance event at that Olympics, but his final lap of 56 seconds was fast enough to catch the attention of Adolf Hitler, who insisted on a personal meeting. As Zamperini tells the story, Hitler shook his hand, and said simply "Ah, you're the boy with the fast finish". According to a profile on Bill Stern's Sports Newsreel radio program, Zamperini climbed a flag pole during the 1936 Olympic games and stole the personal flag of Hitler. Two years later, in 1938, Zamperini set a national collegiate mile record of 4:08 minutes despite severe cuts to his shins from competitors attempting to spike him during the race; this record held for fifteen years, earning him the nickname "Torrance Tornado".
Military career and prisoner of war
January 26, 1917|
Olean, New York, United States
|Died||July 2, 2014(aged 97)|
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/branch||United States Army Air Forces|
|Years of service||1941–1945|
|Unit||372nd Bombardment Squadron, 307th Bombardment Group 7th Air Force|
Distinguished Flying Cross
Prisoner of War Medal
Zamperini enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces in September 1941 and earned a commission as a second lieutenant. He was deployed to the Pacific island of Funafuti as a bombardier on a B-24 Liberator bomber. In April 1943, the plane was badly damaged in combat, and the crew were assigned to conduct a search for a lost aircraft and crew. They were given another B-24, The Green Hornet, notorious among the pilots as a defective "lemon plane". While on the search, mechanical difficulties caused the plane to crash into the ocean 850 miles west of Oahu, killing eight of the eleven men aboard.
The three survivors (Zamperini and his crewmates, pilot Russel Allen "Phil" Phillips and Francis "Mac" McNamara), with little food and no water, subsisted on captured rainwater and small fish eaten raw. They caught two albatrosses, which they ate and used to catch fish, all while fending off constant shark attacks and nearly being capsized by a storm. They were strafed multiple times by a Japanese bomber, which punctured their life raft, but no one was hit. McNamara died after 33 days at sea.
On their 47th day adrift, Zamperini and Phillips reached land in the Marshall Islands and were immediately captured by the Japanese Navy. They were held in captivity, severely beaten, and mistreated until the end of the war in August 1945. Zamperini was held in the Japanese prisoner-of-war camp at Ōfuna for captives who were not registered as prisoners of war (POW). He was tormented by prison guard Mutsuhiro Watanabe (nicknamed "The Bird"), who was later included in General Douglas MacArthur's list of the 40 most wanted war criminals in Japan. Held at the same camp was then-Major Greg "Pappy" Boyington, and in his book, Baa Baa Black Sheep, he discusses Zamperini and the Italian recipes Zamperini would write to keep the prisoners' minds off the food and conditions. Zamperini had at first been declared missing at sea, and then, a year and a day after his disappearance, KIA. When he eventually returned home he received a hero's welcome.
In 1946, he married Cynthia Applewhite, to whom he remained married until her death in 2001. Also, in 1946, Torrance Airport, in his California hometown, was renamed Zamperini Field in his honor (on December 7, 1946, the 5th anniversary of the Attack on Pearl Harbor).
After the war and suffering from severe post traumatic stress disorder, Zamperini became a born-again Christian after attending a crusade led by evangelist Billy Graham in 1949 in Los Angeles. Graham later helped Zamperini launch a new career as a Christian inspirational speaker. Zamperini's wife Cynthia was instrumental in getting him to go to Billy Graham's meetings and not leaving before he was converted.
One of Zamperini's favorite themes is "forgiveness", and he has visited many of the guards from his POW days to let them know that he has forgiven them. Many of the war criminals who committed the worst atrocities were held in the Sugamo Prison, in Tokyo. In October 1950, Zamperini went to Japan, gave his testimony, and preached to them through an interpreter (a missionary named Fred Jarvis). The colonel in charge of the prison encouraged any of the prisoners who recognized Zamperini to come forward and meet him again. Zamperini threw his arms around each of them. Once again, he explained the Christian Gospel of forgiveness to them. The prisoners were somewhat surprised by Zamperini's genuine affection for those who had once ill-treated him.
For his 81st birthday in January 1998, Zamperini ran a leg in the Olympic Torch relay for the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, not far from the POW camp where he had been held. While there, he attempted to meet with his chief and most brutal tormentor during the war, Mutsuhiro Watanabe, who had evaded prosecution as a war criminal, but the latter refused to see him. In March 2005, Zamperini returned to Germany to visit the Berlin Olympic Stadium for the first time since he competed there.
Torrance High School's home football, soccer, and track stadium is called Zamperini Stadium, and the entrance plaza at USC's track & field stadium was named Louis Zamperini Plaza in 2004. [He received numerous additional honors and awards. (See honors and awards.)] In his 90s, Zamperini continued to attend USC football games, and he befriended star quarterback Matt Barkley in 2009.
His death had mistakenly been announced previously, when the US government classified him as KIA during World War II, after his B-24 Liberator aircraft went down in 1943, and no survivors were located by the military. President Franklin D. Roosevelt even sent Zamperini's parents a formal condolence note in 1944.
Honors and awards
- USAAF Decorations
|Distinguished Flying Cross|
|Purple Heart with one oak leaf cluster|
|Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters|
|Presidential Unit Citation (Army) with two service stars|
|Prisoner of War Medal|
|Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with three service stars|
|World War II Victory Medal|
|Philippine Liberation Medal with one service star|
- Zamperini was a Torchbearer for the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles and the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano.
- Torrance High School's home football, soccer, and track stadium was named Zamperini Stadium, and the entrance plaza at USC's track & field stadium was named Louis Zamperini Plaza in 2004.
- On May 10, 2008, Zamperini was awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor by the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations
- In October 2008, Zamperini was inducted into the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in Chicago, Illinois.
- On April 24, 2011, Zamperini received an honorary degree, Doctor of Humane Letters from Azusa Pacific University.
- On May 20, 2011, Zamperini delivered Bryant University's 2011 baccalaureate address and received Bryant's inaugural Distinguished Character Award.
- On May 21, 2011, Bryant University presented Zamperini with an honorary degree, Doctor of Humane Letters.
- On May 22, 2011, Zamperini threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Red Sox-Cubs game at Fenway Park in Boston.
- In late July 2011, Zamperini received the Kappa Sigma Golden Heart Award during the Kappa Sigma 68th Biennial Grand Conclave held at the Flamingo Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.
- He was chosen to serve as Grand Marshal of the 2015 Rose Parade, held before the college football playoff game in his home state of California. After Zamperini's death on July 2, 2014, the Tournament announced that it is "committed to honoring him as the Grand Marshal of the 2015 Rose Parade".
Zamperini wrote two memoirs about his experiences, both bearing the same title: Devil at My Heels. The first (written with Helen Itria), subtitled "The Story of Louis Zamperini", was published by Dutton in 1956. The second, subtitled "A World War II Hero's Epic Saga of Torment, Survival, and Forgiveness" (written with David Rensin), bore a familiar title but was top to bottom wholly new, and with much additional information. It was published in 2003 by William Morrow.
Laura Hillenbrand, author of Seabiscuit: An American Legend (2001), has written a biography of Zamperini. The book, entitled Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (2010) and published by Random House, was a #1 New York Times bestseller. It was named the top nonfiction book of 2010 by TIME.
In popular culture
- "The Great Zamperini". USC News. 2003. Retrieved 2012-09-03.
- Berkow, Ira (2003-02-15). "Not Yet Ready for His Last Mile". New York Times. Retrieved 2012-09-03.
- [Cs.uml.edu "Note: while this suggests that others had run faster, it is still an outstanding time". CS.UML.edu. Retrieved 2012-09-03.
- Track & Field News: Edwards Announces Retirement. Trackandfieldnews.com. Retrieved on 2012-09-03.
- Track & Field News • View topic – High School Mile Record Holders since 1930. Trackandfieldnews.com. Retrieved on 2012-09-03.
- "California State Meet Results - 1915 to present". Hank Lawson. Retrieved 2012-12-25.
- Hymans, Richard (2008). The History of the United State Olympic Trials – Track & Field. usatf.org
- Gjerde, Arild; Jeroen Heijmans; Bill Mallon; Hilary Evans (May 2014). "Lou Zamperini Bio, Stats, and Results". Olympics. Sports Reference.com. Retrieved 2014-05-15.
- Hilton, Christopher (2011). Hitler's Olympics: The 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. The History Press. ISBN 978-0752475387. Retrieved 2014-07-03.
- Franklin County Veterans Journal. (PDF) . Retrieved on 2012-09-03.
- Laura Hillenbrand (2010). Unbroken. Random House. pp. 35.
- "Louis Zamperini. ABC special. . (Video). Retrieved on 2013-02- 26.
- Veterans Museum & Memorial Center – Air Garden, B24 Memorial Honoring The Personnel Who Crewed And Supported the B-24. Veteranmuseum.org. Retrieved on 2012-09-03.
- "Zamperini". City of Torrance. Retrieved 2012-09-03.
- "Clip from documentary on Louis Zamperini". 60 Minutes.
- Gustkey, Earl (19 February 1998). "Former Track Star, POW, Doesn't Get Closure at 81 in His Return to Japan". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 27 July 2011.
- "Olympian Runner, Hero of WWII is Honored Anew". Fox News. 2010-12-24.
- Hillenbrand, Laura (2010). Unbroken. Random House. p. 171.
- Chawkins, Steve; Thursby, Keith (3 July 2014). "Louis Zamperini dies at 97; Olympic track star and WWII hero". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 4 July 2014.
- History of Zamperini Field/Torrance Airport. YouTube.
- Lloyd, Jonathan (May 9, 2014). "War Hero, Former Olympian Louis Zamperini Named Rose Parade Grand Marshal". NBCUniversal. Retrieved May 9, 2014.
- Hillenbrand, Laura (2010). Unbroken. Random House. p. 397.
- US Dept of State (2005-03-10). "Press release".
- Fellenzer, Jeff (October 29, 2009). "There is no goal that USC's Matt Barkley won't pursue". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 29, 2009.
- "Tonight Show with Jay Leno". IMDb.
- "Olympic runner and WW2 prisoner Louis Zamperini dies". BBC. 3 July 2014.
- Louis Zamperini, War Hero Chosen as 2015 Rose Parade Grand Marshal, Dies at 97. KTLA.com. Retrieved on 2014-07-03.
- WWII Hero, 'Unbroken' Subject Louis Zamperini Dies at 97
- "Fall 2011". The Caduceus of Kappa Sigma. January 26, 2012. p. 34. Retrieved June 7, 2012.
- "Olympic runner and WW2 prisoner Louis Zamperini dies". BBC. 3 July 2014.
- "The Tournament of Roses Expresses Our Heartfelt Sympathy to The Family of Louis Zamperini". Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association. July 3, 2014.
- Lloyd, Jonathan. "War Hero, Former Olympian Louis Zamperini Named Rose Parade Grand Marshal".
- Devil At My Heels: The Story of Louis Zamperini. E.P. Dutton & Co. 1956. ASIN B0018KCZFE.
- Zamperini, Louis & Rensin, David (2003). Devil At My Heels: A World War II Hero's Epic Saga of Torment, Survival, and Forgiveness (1 ed.). William Morrow. ISBN 978-0060188603.
- "Bio of Laura Hillenbrand". Seabiscuitonline.com. Retrieved 2012-09-03.
- Pitts, Edward Lee (18 December 2010). "We had adversities". WORLD. pp. 46–7.
- Gregory Cowles (November 18, 2011). "Inside the List". The New York Times.
- "The Top 10 Everything of 2010". TIME. Retrieved 2012-09-03.
- Laura Hillenbrand Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
- Louis Zamperini with David Rensin Devil at My Heels: A World War II Hero's Epic Saga of Torment, Survival, and Forgiveness
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Louis Zamperini.|
- Official website
- A stop-by-stop timeline of his journey
- Louis Zamperini with John Ortberg, 22 January 2012