RIP Louis Zamperini

Louis Zamperini - 1944
Louis Zamperini, Olympic runner and World War II POW, whose incredible story gained wide recognition due to the best-selling 2010 biography Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, has died. He was 97.

According to a statement released by his family, he had been suffering from pneumonia.

The above mentioned book, authored by Laura Hillenbrand, tells the remarkable story of Zamperini’s time as a World War II airman; crashing into the Pacific Ocean and being listed as dead, but surviving on a life raft adrift for over a month and a half before being captured by the Japanese. The motion picture adaptation, directed by Angelina Jolie, is set for a December release this year.

Lieutenant Zamperini enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1941, just as the United States entered the war. He flew a B-24 as a bombardier. He was on a rescue mission when his plane, “The Green Hornet,” crashed into the ocean in May of 1944.

He and two other airmen who were on the plane were at sea for 47 days, attempting to survive on rainwater and the very occasional fish; all while braving the elements and trying to avoid sharks and the Japanese. Zamperini went from 125 to 75 pounds during the ordeal. One of the other airmen didn’t make it.

They were eventually caught, being forced to endure unspeakable torment at the hands of their captors. As the New York Times quotes here, Zamperini said; “I could take the beatings and the physical punishment, but it was the attempt to destroy your dignity, to make you a nonentity that was the hardest thing to bear.” He said his training as a runner helped him cope with the physical torture; “For one thing, you have to learn self-discipline if you are going to succeed as an athlete. For another thing, you have to have confidence in yourself and believe that no matter what you’re faced with, you can deal with it — that you just can’t give up. And then there’s the aspect of staying in shape. And humor helped a lot, even in the gravest times.”

Visit the PeekYou profile of this extraordinary man, and explore the many essays, interviews, and writings available throughout the Web — relating to his heroic life — and maybe pick up a copy of Unbroken for yourself. It’s a very good, exceedingly humbling read.