Louis Zamperini dies at age 97

louis-zamperini.jpgYou know the story of Louis Zamperini. A runner of local note from Torrance and USC, he competed in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. In World War II, his plane crashed into the Pacific and he drifted on a raft for 47 days before becoming a Japanese prisoner of war. His name is on two memoirs titled "Devil at My Heels,” one published in 1956, the other in 2003 written with David Rensin. Then Laura Hillenbrand's 2010 book "Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption,” brought Zamperini renewed fame. A movie of "Unbroken" is due out in December, with Zamperini played by Jack O’Connell and directed by Angelina Jolie.

Zamperini died Wednesday in Los Angeles at age 97. He had been scheduled to be this year's Rose Parade grand marshal.

Rensin, the LA Observed contributor, posted on Facebook:

It's 3:45 am in Ventura, CA, and I just heard that my friend Louie Zamperini has passed away. He was a great man about whom many words will be written in the coming weeks and months, all deservedly so. His loss is profound, but his life was even more so.

In December of 2013 his family let me know that he wanted to restart a small book project that we'd begun soon after the 2003 publication of his autobiography, "Devil At My Heels"--which I'd helped him write.

We'd set it aside so that Louie could devote his full attention to working with Laura Hillenbrand on "Unbroken," her biography of him that came out in 2010. (The movie of his life directed by Angelina Jolie will debut on Christmas Day.)

We got to work in January 2014, met every week, and on July 1, we submitted that new book, "Don't Give Up, Don't Give In: Lessons From an Extraordinary Life," to our publisher. And now, suddenly, he's gone.

It was an honor to work with Louie and to know him all these years. My deepest sympathy for his family and the countless whose lives he's touched.

Here's part of what I wrote in the acknowledgments: "For almost sixteen years I have had the greatest respect for Louie Zamperini. He’s lived a miraculous life, set an indelible and inspirational example, and has taught me more than I ever expected to learn ... The devil may be at Louie’s heels, but Lucifer will never catch him."

This post is not about me, so in lieu of condolences, I hope everyone will take a moment to honor this man whose courage, indomitable will, cheerful heart, and life of service should inspire us all.

From the New York Times obit:

Ms. Hillenbrand’s book, “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption” recounted in vivid detail how Mr. Zamperini — a track star at the University of Southern California and an airman during the war — crashed into the Pacific, was listed as dead and spent 47 days adrift in a life raft before his capture by the Japanese. It rose to No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list....

Shortly after America entered the war in 1941, Mr. Zamperini, then in his early 20s, enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He was a bombardier in a B-24 that was flying a rescue mission on May 27, 1944, when his plane, named “The Green Hornet,” malfunctioned and fell into the sea....

Lieutenant Zamperini, the co-pilot, Second Lt. Russell Phillips, and the tail gunner, Sgt. Francis McNamara, shared a raft, and fought off hunger, thirst, heat and storms while trying to avoid being shot by Japanese planes or eaten by sharks. They subsisted on rainwater and the few fish they could catch. Lieutenant Zamperini, who was 5-foot-9, went from 125 pound to 75 pounds. After 33 days, Sergeant McNamara died.

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