Five Things to Know About WWII Hero, 'Unbroken' Inspiration Louis Zamperini

Angelina Jolie and Louis Zamperini

The former Olympian and subject of Angelina Jolie's next film died Thursday following a case of pneumonia — some of the most memorable moments from his improbable life will surprise you.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner and World War II veteran who survived a bomber crash in the Pacific Ocean, spending weeks adrift and then years as a prisoner of war, died this week at age 97.

Here are five things to know about his remarkable life. 


A track star in high school and at the University of Southern California, Zamperini made the U.S. Olympic team and competed in the 5,000-meter run at the 1936 Berlin Games. He finished eighth but caught attention by running the final lap in 56 seconds.

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Lt. Zamperini served as a bombardier in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II, surviving combat missions before his aircraft went down in the Pacific in May 1943. He and two others survived the crash, but another ordeal ensued. After 47 days adrift in shark-infested waters, Zamperini and one other were still alive when they were found by Japanese forces. Zamperini was held as a prisoner of war for more than two years, surviving torture.


Zamperini's epic story of courage was told by author Laura Hillenbrand in the 2010 best-selling book Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. The book is being made into a movie directed by Angelina Jolie and is scheduled for a December release by Universal.

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On May 9, the Tournament of Roses announced that Zamperini would be grand marshal of the 2015 New Year's Day Rose Parade, which will have the theme "Inspiring Stories." Zamperini noted to the audience that all his college friends and war buddies were now dead. "It's sad to realize that you've lost all your friends," he said. "But I think I made up for it. I made a new friend — Angelina Jolie. And the gal really loves me. She hugs me and kisses me, so I can't complain."


Zamperini always appeared wearing a University of Southern California ball cap. Frequently introduced to fans at USC sporting events, his name adorns the entrance plaza outside the university's track stadium. Former USC track and field coach Ron Allice said Zamperini never failed to mention his alma mater in speeches. "He was the greatest ambassador the university ever had," Allice said.