Louis Zamperini: War Hero Dies, Once Spoke At Billy Graham Crusade

Louis Zamperini, the World War II hero who inspired the Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken, died Wednesday of pneumonia at the age of 97 in Los Angeles.

Zamperini was a collegiate and Olympic athlete before the outbreak of World War II. According to an article in Variety, Zamperini competed at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin as a distance runner. Prior to that, he competed in track and field at the University of Southern California.

When World War II broke out, Louis Zamperini volunteered for service in the U.S. Army Air Corps. According to a report in the New York Times, Zamperini serves as a bombardier on a B-24 bomber known as Green Hornet. The bomber landed in the Pacific after malfunctioning, leaving Zamperini and other crew members adrift.

The U.S. government, believing Lieutenant Zamperini to be dead, sent a telegram to Zamperini’s parents, which read:

“In grateful memory of First Lieutenant Louis S. Zamperini, A.S. No. 0-663341, who died in the service of his country in the Central Pacific Area. He stands in the unbroken line of patriots who have dared to die that freedom might live, and grow, and increase its blessings. Freedom lives, and through it, he lives — in a way that humbles the undertakings of most men.”

Zamperini survived the ordeal at sea, but was captured by Japanese forces. He remained in a Japanese prisoner of war camp until he was liberated near the end of World War II.

After returning home following the war, by his own account, Zamperini fell into alcoholism and lost everything he had except his family. He shares what happened next that helped him get his life back on track – and gave him faith to believe he had eternal life – in a brief speech during a Billy Graham Crusade in 1958.

[Video via YouTube/Billy Graham Evangelistic Association]

Billy Graham introduces Louis Zamperini, who became a Christian at one of his crusades, at 3:25 of the video above. At the time of Zamperini’s speech at the Billy Graham Crusade, he was the director of the Victory Boys Camp for Juvenile Delinquents in Los Angeles. According to Billy Graham, he dedicated his life to leading young people to faith in Christ. According to the New York Times article, he also returned to Japan to pursue Christian missionary work.

Louis Zamperini’s family released this statement after his death:

“Having overcome insurmountable odds at every turn in his life, Olympic runner and World War II hero Louis Zamperini has never broken down from a challenge. He recently faced the greatest challenge of his life with a life-threatening case of pneumonia. After a 40-day long battle for his life, he peacefully passed away in the presence of his entire family, leaving behind a legacy that has touched so many lives. His indomitable courage and fighting spirit were never more apparent than in these last days.”

As we celebrate Independence Day, let’s make sure to remember heroes like Louis Zamperini who fought to ensure our continuing freedom.

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