- AARP - https://blog.aarp.org -

Louis Zamperini: Olympic Runner, POW Was Twice a Hero

In 1936, at age 19, Louis Zamperini was one of the best middle-distance runners in the world. He was good enough to be on the U.S. team in the Berlin Olympics, where he finished eighth in the 5,000 meters and stood close enough to Adolf Hitler’s box at the stadium to get a good look at the Nazi dictator. “I was pretty naí¯ve about world politics, and I thought he looked funny, like something out of a Laurel and Hardy film,” Zamperini recalled in a 2003 interview with the New York Times.

>> Photos: Famous People We’ve Lost in 2014

Louis_Zamperini_at_announcement_of_2015_Tournament_of_Roses_Grand_MarshalWorld War II soon put an end to Zamperini’s dream of winning a gold medal in the 1940 Olympics and instead forced him to become a different sort of hero. In May 1943, a B-24 bomber on which Zamperini was serving as bombardier crashed into the Pacific Ocean. After surviving 47 days in a life raft, Zamperini was picked up by a Japanese patrol ship and imprisoned, where he suffered horrific torture and mistreatment.

Zamperini, who died on July 2 at age 97, not only managed to survive his wartime ordeal but also became an inspiration for generations that followed. He was the subject of author Laura Hillenbrand’s 2010 bestseller, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, which was adapted into a film directed by Angelina Jolie that will be released this December.

Here are some facts about Zamperini:






>> Get travel discounts with your AARP Member Advantages.





Here’s a 2011 documentary on Zamperini in which he talks about his life with a journalism class at his alma mater, the University of Southern California.


Photo: Zamperini in 2014 by Floatjon via Wikipedia


Also of Interest


See the AARP home page for deals, savings tips, trivia and more