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Louis Zamperini was an American Olympic distance runner and World War II veteran who survived being stranded at sea and enduring brutal treatment as a prisoner of war. He was born on January 26, 1917, in Olean, New York, to Italian immigrants. Zamperini was raised in California and became a standout athlete in high school, setting national records in the mile and the 5,000-meter run.

Louis Zamperini


After graduating from high school, Zamperini attended the University of Southern California on a track scholarship. He quickly became one of the best distance runners in the country, setting numerous records and winning a gold medal in the 5,000-meter race at the 1938 NCAA championships. He also competed in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, finishing eighth in the 5,000-meter race.

However, Louis Zamperini’s running career was cut short by the outbreak of World War II. He enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces and became a bombardier on a B-24 Liberator bomber. On May 27, 1943, Louis Zamperini’s plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean during a search and rescue mission. Zamperini and two other crew members survived the crash and spent 47 days adrift on a life raft, enduring hunger, thirst, and shark attacks.

After 47 days at sea, Louis Zamperini and his fellow survivor were captured by the Japanese and taken to a prisoner of war camp in Tokyo. Louis Zamperini endured brutal treatment at the hands of his captors, including daily beatings, forced labor, and starvation. He was held in captivity for more than two years before being liberated by Allied forces at the end of the war.

Despite the physical and emotional trauma he suffered during his time as a prisoner of war, Louis Zamperini returned to the United States and became an inspirational speaker and author, sharing his story of survival and resilience with audiences around the world. He also worked as a youth counselor and founded the Victory Boys Camp, a program for at-risk youth.

Louis Zamperini passed away on July 2, 2014, at the age of 97. His remarkable story of survival and perseverance has inspired countless people around the world and has been the subject of several books and films, including the 2014 film “Unbroken,” directed by Angelina Jolie.


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"Louis Zamperini: The Olympic Runner and WWII Survivor" History on the Net
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June 12, 2024 <https://www.historyonthenet.com/louis-zamperini-the-olympic-runner-and-wwii-survivor>
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