American prisoner of war survivor in World War II, a Christian inspirational speaker, and an Olympic distance runner Louis Silvie “Louie” Zamperini died on July 2, 2014 at the age of 97.
Born January 26, 1917, in Olean, New York, to Anthony Zamperini and Louise Dossi, both native to Verona in Northern Italy.
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.
In 1936, Zamperini decided to try out for the Olympics. In those days, athletes had to pay their way to the Olympic Trials, but since his father worked for the railroad, Louis could get a train ticket for free.
A group of Torrance merchants raised enough money for the local hero to live on once he got there.
The 1,500 metres was stacked that year with eventual silver medalist Glenn Cunningham, Archie San Romani and Gene Venzke all challenging to get on the team.
Zamperini enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps in September 1941 and earned a commission as a second lieutenant.
He was deployed to the Pacific island of Funafuti as a bombardier on the Consolidated B-24 Liberator bomber Super Man.
In April 1943, during a bombing mission against the Japanese-held island of Nauru, the bomber was badly damaged in combat.
With Super Man no longer flight-worthy, and a number of the crew injured, the healthy crew members were transferred to Hawaii to await reassignment.
Zamperini, along with some other former Super Man crewmates, was 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”.
Zamperini married Cynthia Applewhite in 1946, to whom he remained married until her death in 2001.
They had one daughter, Cissy, and one son, Luke. Also, Torrance Airport, in his California hometown, was renamed Zamperini Field in his honor, on the fifth anniversary of the Attack on Pearl Harbor.
Later Graham helped Zamperini launch a new career as a Christian inspirational speaker.
One of his recurring themes was forgiveness, and he visited many of the guards from his POW days to let them know that he had forgiven them.
This included an October 1950 visit to Sugamo Prison in Tokyo, where many war criminals were imprisoned, in which Zamperini embraced those who stepped forward to acknowledge that they recognized him, and expressed forgiveness to them. Zamperini told CBN that some became Christians in response.
Louis was a fighter before he was a runner, according to a biography released by the University of Southern California.
His father taught him how to box so he could defend himself against bullies who taunted him because he could not speak English.
Pete Zamperini, an older brother, encouraged him to try out for the track team at Torrance High School.