Louis Zamperini, theWorld War II prisoner of war survivor, as well as a former Olympic distance runner, and the subject of Lauren Hillenbrand's book, "Unbroken," which will be released as a film in December, has died at age 97.
As America celebrates Independence Day, I can't help but that, when the Founding Fathers penned the brilliant document they called the Declaration of Independence, they had folks like Louie Zamperini in mind.
"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," Zamperini's family said in a statement. "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."
In 1998, Zamperini ran a leg in the Olympic Torch relay for the Winter Olympics in Japan, where he had been a prisoner of war during World War II, where he suffered unspeakable treatment, but forgave his captors.
Zamperini was scheduled to be the grand marshal of the 2015 Rose Parade
Laura Hillenbrand's book, "Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption," was a 2010 biography of Zamperini's extraordinary life. It was a #1 New York Times bestseller, as well as being named Time Magazine's best nonfiction book of the year.
Angelina Jolie directed the film version of Hillenbrand's book.
"It is a loss impossible to describe," Jolie said in a statement. "We are all so grateful for how enriched our lives are for having known him. We will miss him terribly."
Zamperini grew up in Olean, New York, where he ran track at Torrance High School. He set a record for the mile in 1934 on his way to a scholarship to the University of Southern California.
At 19, Zamperini became the youngest-ever American Olympic qualifier for for the 5,000 meters. He placed eighth in the event at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany, but his final lap of 56 seconds earned him the notice of Adolf Hitler, as well as a one-on-one meeting.
He qualified for the 1940 Games, which were cancelled due to the outbreak of World War II
In 1941, Zamperini enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces and survived a plane crash in the Pacific, spending 74 days on a raft before finally reaching land, where he and his fellow survivor were immediately captured by the Japanese Navy. He spent the next two and a half years as an unofficial prisoner of war. His family gave him up for dead.
"He lived the most remarkable life, not because of the many unbelievable incidents that marked his near century's worth of years, but because of the spirit with which he faced every one of them," Universal Pictures said in a statement. "Confronting challenges that would cause most of us to surrender, Louie always persevered and always prevailed, and he spent the better part of his lifetime sharing the message that you could do the same. His example of grace, dignity and resilience inspired all of us lucky enough to know him and the millions who got to know him from the pages of Laura's book."
Louie Zamperini was a true American hero, who served as an inspiration to generations.
He will be missed.