OBIT: Louis Zamperini, Scheduled Grand Marshal for 2015 Rose Parade

He was also a South Bay native, an Olympian and WWII war hero.

Louis Zamperini. Patch file photo.
Louis Zamperini. Patch file photo.

Originally posted at 11:54 p.m. July 2, 2014. Edited with new details.

Louis Zamperini, a member of the 1936 U.S. Olympic track and field team who survived repeated torture for two years as a Japanese prisoner of war during World War II, has died from pneumonia at the age of 97, his family announced tonight.

"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," his family said in a statement released by Universal Pictures, which will release a movie on Zamperini's life, "Unbroken."

Angelina Jolie, who directed "Unbroken," called Zamperini's death "a loss impossible to describe."

"We are all so grateful for how enriched our lives are for having known him," Jolie said.

In May, Zamperini was selected to be grand marshal of the 2015 Rose Parade.

The 97-year-old's life story inspired the best-selling book and upcoming movie "Unbroken." His military record includes surviving 47 days on a raft after the bomber he was on crashed in the Pacific, then enduring repeated torture for two years as a POW.

Zamperini grew up in Torrance, lived in Los Angeles and made numerous speaking engagements across Patch towns in Southern California

Born in 1917 to Italian immigrants, Zamperini moved to the South Bay in 1919 and became a world-class distance runner by the time he graduated from Torrance High School, setting a world interscholastic record in the mile.

His track skills won him a scholarship to USC, where he was a member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity.

At age 19, Zamperini qualified to compete in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where he was America's top finisher in the 5,000-meter run, finishing the final lap in 56 seconds and causing Adolf Hitler to request a personal meeting with him.

During World War II, Zamperini became a bombardier and served in the South Pacific.

While on a reconnaissance mission, Zamperini's aircraft crashed into the Pacific Ocean. He and a surviving crewmate spent 47 days adrift on an inflatable raft before being captured by Japanese soldiers when they reached the Marshall Islands.

He was a POW for more than two years, during which time he was frequently beaten and tortured by his captors.

Zamperini returned to Southern California to a hero's welcome.

Suffering from post traumatic disorder, Zamperini found solace in 1949 when he became a born-again Christian after attending a Los Angeles crusade led by evangelist Billy Graham. He eventually became an inspirational speaker preaching the power of forgiveness.

He practiced what he preached in 1950, when he went to Sugamo Prison in Tokyo -- where Japanese war criminals were being held -- and met with some of his torturers to offer them forgiveness, hugging them in the process.

At age 81, Zamperini - a five-time Olympic torch-bearer - ran a leg in the torch relay for the Winter Olympics in Nagano. During his visit, he attempted to meet with his most brutal tormentor during the war, Mutsuhiro Watanabe, but Watanabe --who escaped prosecution as a war criminal -- refused to see him.

In 2005, Zamperini returned to Germany to visit the Berlin Olympic Stadium for the first time since he competed there in 1936.

Zamperini was inducted into the Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame. Torrance High School's home football, soccer and track facility is named after him.

--City News Service

Linda R July 03, 2014 at 02:56 PM
Why was this special person by passed all these years. How sad not to have him lead the Rose Parade!
Ron Cooper July 03, 2014 at 08:38 PM
A real loss not to have Louis as the Grand Marshall of next year's Rose Parade! I trust that those in charge will somehow honor this TRUE HERO with a fitting remembrance, nonetheless ~ (He said, hopefully). Rest in eternal peace, Mr. Zamperini ~ You have certainly earned your place in Heaven.


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