World War II Hero and Olympic Distance Runner. Born in New York his family moved to California when he was two years old. He became a distance runner and set an interscholastic record in 1934. This earned him a scholarship to the University of Southern California. He qualified for the 1936 Berlin Olympics and finished eighth in the 5,000 meter distance event at that Olympics. He ran the last lap in record time which brought him to the attention of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler. Just prior to American entry into World War II following the attack on Pearl Harbor, he joined the US Army Air Corps. He served on a B-24 in the Pacific theater. The infamous and known-to-be-faulty B-24 dubbed 'Green Hornet', to which the crew was assigned that day, ditched at sea in the Pacific due to mechanical failure, while searching for the missing B-24 pilot and First Lieutenant Clarence C. Corpening, Jr. While drifting at sea on a life raft which Lieutenant Zamperini, Bombardier, was able to gather and deploy from the aircraft the moment they were going down at sea, the remaining three crew members endured the constant danger of sharks circling and bumping the small raft. They survived on raw fish, rain water, and random sea birds which Zamperini's quick, bare hands were able to capture upon lighting on the raft. At one point during their 47 days adrift, an aircraft finally appeared overhead. Thinking their rescue had arrived, they became very hopeful, only to discover that it was a Japanese aircraft. This was quickly confirmed, as they were strafed by incoming rounds of fire from overhead. In an attempt to avoid the incoming fire, Zamperini boldly jumped out into the water with the sharks, punching them in the nose when they came near him. They would survive horrible conditions of only rain water and raw fish. He was one of three who survived the crash. One of the survivors SSgt Francis P. "Mac" McNamara the tail gunner, died at sea. Louis and the other survivor pilot Russell Allen "Phil" Phillips reached land in the Marshall Islands and were captured by the Japanese Navy. He was terribly beaten, starved, and tortured while in Japanese captivity. Because of his celebrity status he was singled out for greater torture. In 1949, his wife, Cynthia Applewhite, persuaded him to attend the Los Angeles Billy Graham Crusade. Billy Graham was instrumental in leading him to Christ. Louis would later return to Japan where he visited the prison holding many of the guards from the POW camp where he was held during the war. He met many of the former guards, offering them forgiveness and hugging them. His first book, "Devil at my Heels: The Louis Zamperini Story" was published in 1956. In 2003 a new book was published with much new material and information. Louis had a changed life, reflected in his founding of Victory Camps. A program of helping truant youth. He continued to be involved in the Olympic movement, running five times in the Olympic Torch Run. For his 81st birthday in January 1998, Zamperini ran a leg in the Olympic Torch relay for the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. His route of carrying the torch took him by the prison where he had been interned during the War. Throughout his life he continued to be a spokesman for the University of Southern California. He often appeared in public wearing a USC cap. In 2010 a book of his life was publish, "Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption." The author,Laura Hillenbrand, also wrote the popular book "Seabiscuit" which also became a movie. In January 2015 the movie version of the book is to be released, directed by Angelina Jolie. Zamperini was scheduled to be the Grand marshal of the 2015 Rose Parade in Pasadena, California. He was born under the name of Louis Silvie Zamperini in 1917 in Olean, New York. The Zamperini Field in Torrance, California, formerly the Torrance Municipal Airport, is named after him.
Bio by: Robert C. Peurifoy
Cynthia Marie Applewhite Zamperini