Louis Zamperini

Unbroken War Survivor and Olympian

About Louis Zamperini

Was born on January 26th 1917, in New York. But was raised in California, Louis joined the track team in high school. He was amazing in long-distance events, he competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics and was going to compete in the 1940 games in Tokyo, which was canceled due to the start of World War ll. He was a bombardier in the Army Air Corps, he was also in a plane that went down, his raft was spotted by a Japanese ship. He went through two years of torture, starvation, and he was an overworked prisoner. After Louis's release he became an inspirational figure and helped make the biography film "Unbroken: a World War ll Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption."

The Early Years of Louis Zamperini

Growing up in California, Louis ran track at Torrance High School and found out that he had a competitive streak a mile wide when it came to long distance running. In 1934 Louis had set national high school records for the 1 mile and has a time of 4.21.2 and that record stood for 20 years! His fast running abilities in track caught the eyes of the University of Southern California, which he had earned a full scholarship to attend.

1936 Olympics

Louis loved track, he was taking it to the next level. In 1936 he went to New York City for the 5,000-meter Olympic trials. The trials were held on Randall's Island, he was against Don Lash (the world record holder in that event). The finish was enough to qualify Louis in for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, he was still a teenager! He only trained for a few weeks in the 5,000 meters, although he ran well, he didn't medal, he came in 8th place (Don Lash got 13th). During the overwhelming moment, at only 19 years old he ran his final lap in only 56 seconds! In 1938 he was back to setting records, this time he broke the mile record of 4:08.3, a new mark held for 15 years. He graduated from USC in 1940, this would've been his next shot at an Olympic gold but World War ll happened.

“I’d made it this far and refused to give up because all my life i had always finished the race.”

World War ll and Japanese Camp

When World War ll broke out, the 1940 Olympics were cancelled, and Louis enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He was a bombardier on the B-24 Liberator, in May of 1943 Louis and his crew went on a flight mission to find a pilot whose plane had gone down. Over the Pacific Ocean, his plane had a mechanical failure and crashed into the ocean. Of the eleven men on board, only Louis and two other airman survived the crash.

"I've always been called lucky Louie, it's no mystery why"

Louis Zamperini's Letter to the Bird

How Louis overcame his obstacle

Louis was scarred when he came home, he had PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) he suffered from alcoholism & Louis and his wife were close to divorce, what brought him back was hearing Billy Graham sermon in 1949 a sermon that inspired him to begin his healing process. He found a camp for troubled youths called Victory Boys Camp and he ended up forgiving his Japanese tormentors. He also went to become a prominent inspirational speaker, he wrote two memoirs (both titled Devil at my Heels, 1956 & 2003).

"The Bird"

Mutsuhiro Watanabe was an imperial Japanese army sergeant in World War ll camps who served at POW camps. After Japan's defeat, the US Occupation authorities classified him as a war criminal for his mistreatment of the prisoners of war but somehow managed to evade arrest and was never in court. He beat the prisoners often and caused them serious injuries.

“ The one who forgives never brings up the past to that person’s face. When you forgive, it’s like it never happened. True forgiveness is complete and total.”

Louis went back to Japan to forgive the harsh guards, and when he said he wanted to forgive "The Bird" they lied and said he had passed away.