Louis Zamperini’s story of heroism and perseverance could very easily be the screenplay for a blockbuster hit. Zamperini’s faith, athleticism and leadership have enabled him to negotiate every obstacle in his path. With the encouragement of his brother, Zamperini started running as a kid to stay out of trouble, little did he know that one day he would become one of the world’s greatest mile runners.
At the University of Southern California, Lou set a national collegiate record for the mile in 1938; his time was an incredible 4:08.3. Two years prior Lou was a proud member of the 1936 US Olympic squad.
When his country needed him the most, Lou joined the Army Air Corps and served as a bombardier on a B-24, flying missions over the pacific. In May 1943 Lou’s plane went down during a routine rescue mission, he and two other crew members miraculously survived the crash. Lou managed to survive for the next 47 days on a life raft despite strafing attacks by the enemy and with almost no food or water. Just when things looked like they couldn’t get any worse, Lou and his surviving crew member were captured by the Japanese. Lou was held as a POW for two and a half years during which time he was threatened with death, starved, tortured, and beaten regularly. Back home Lou’s family was informed that he had been killed in combat; his mother never gave up hope that her son would one day return home safely. That hope was proved with Lou’s triumphant return from the war in September 1945.
Since his return to the states, Lou has shared his story and strengthened faith with thousands each year. Remembering how sports kept him off the streets as a youth, Zamperini started an outward bounds camp to benefit troubled boys. Lou’s faith, hard work, and perseverance provide a role model for thousands of kids and are worth recognition and celebration. Among his many accolades, Lou was recently awarded with the 2008 Ellis Island Medal of Honor.
He was also inducted into the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in 2008.