Z is for survivor Louis Zamperini

Louie Zamperini’s remarkable story of survival garnered new attention in 2010 with the Laura Hillenbrand book Unbroken, which hit #1 on the New York Times best-seller list.

Stuck for a Z topic, the Daughter said, “How about Louis Zamperini?” Of course. She read parts of Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (2010), a biography of Zamperini by Laura Hillenbrand, for her English class.

Louis, born on January 26, 1917 in Olean, NY to Italian immigrant parents, grew up a troublemaker in Torrance, California. As a child, he was smoking and drinking, stealing and fighting. Trying to impress some high school girls, he joined the school’s track team, and ended up breaking a national high school record, running the mile in only 4 minutes, 21 seconds.

Zamperini competed in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, and even met Adolf Hitler at the 1936 Olympics. He didn’t medal, though he seemed like a sure bet for the 1940 team, but the games were called off because of World War II.

Louis Zamperini enlisted in the Army Air Corps in September 1941, cheating death several times as a B-24 bombardier. His missions included a famous December 1942 air raid on Wake Island. .

On May 27, 1943, Zamperini and his crew were participating in a search and rescue mission over the Pacific when their plane suddenly lost power to two of its engines, careening into the sea. Zamperini and two others were the only ones of an 11-man crew to initially survive.

One of the trio, Francis McNamara, perished after 33 days at sea. Zamperini and Russell Allen Phillips drifted for another two weeks before being captured by the Japanese Navy near the Marshall Islands.

Zamperini was tortured daily as a POW. Over the next two years, he also suffered from disease, exposure, and starvation. The Japanese tried to use him as a propaganda tool, but once he agreed to read a message telling his parents he was alive, he refused to cooperate any further.

After the war, he used alcohol to fight the nightmares. Zamperini says he was saved from his post-war trauma after witnessing a sermon by the evangelical preacher Billy Graham in 1949.

In 1950, Zamperini returned to Japan for the first time since his liberation to address some Japanese war criminals. He shook hands and embraced many of his old camp guards. He became an inspirational speaker, and he wrote two memoirs, both titled Devil at My Heels (1956 and 2003).

Zamperini’s remarkable story of survival garnered new attention in 2010 with the Hillenbrand book, which hit #1 on the New York Times best-seller list. Louis became a celebrity all over again when he charmingly made the rounds with Angelina Jolie, who was directing the film Unbroken, based on the book, starring Jack O’Connell as Louis, which was released on Christmas Day 2014.

Louis Zamperini died from pneumonia on July 2, 2014.

There’s a movie sequel to Unbroken, Path To Redemption (2017), with Samuel Hunt as Zamperini and Will Graham playing his grandfather, Billy Graham.

For ABC Wednesday

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

7 thoughts on “Z is for survivor Louis Zamperini”

  1. Very inspirational character. Your daughter seems to share your interest in history, too. 🙂

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