War Hero & Olympian Louis Zamperini dies at 97

Louis Zamperini

All I want to tell young people is that you’re not going to be anything in life unless you learn to commit to a goal. You have to reach deep within yourself to see if you are willing to make the sacrifices.

Louis Zamperini, a member of the 1936 U.S. Olympic team & a WWII bombardier who survived repeated torture for two years as a Japanese POW, passed away yesterday at the age of 97.

A standout while on the track team at USC, Zamperini competed in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, where he became the youngest American qualifier for the 1936 Berlin Games, running the 5,000 meters at age 19.

He finished eighth at the Games, but his final lap of 56 seconds was fast enough for Adolf Hitler to request a personal meeting. As Zamperini tells the story, Hitler shook his hand, and simply said “Ah, you’re the boy with the fast finish”.

When WWII broke out, he enlisted and was sent to the South Pacific as a bombardier aboard a B-24 Liberator. In 1943, his plane crashed into the ocean, and he survived a harrowing 47 days in an open raft with two others until he was taken prisoner by the Japanese.

Zamperini was held as a POW for two years, during which time he was repeatedly tortured and eventually listed as killed in action by the U.S. government.

When he eventually returned home he received a hero’s welcome. Zamperini went on to visit many of the guards from his POW days to let them know that he had forgiven them.

Truly an incredible and inspiring life of service. Rest easy, Mr. Zamperini.

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