RIP Louis Zamperini: A True American Hero

Louis "Louie" Zamperini was a remarkable man who accomplished more in his lifetime than most people ever dream of.

Zamperini was born in Olean, New York on January 26, 1917.  The son of Italian immigrants, Louie and his family spoke very little English. They moved to California when he was just two years old and a young Louie was often the target of bullies.

Louie's older brother introduced him to the school track team where he went on to set world records, earn a scholarship to the University of Southern California, and eventually qualified for the U.S. Olympic team. At 19 he was the youngest American qualifier in the 5,000 meter race and went on to finish 8th at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany.

In 1941, Zamperini enlisted in the Army and was deployed to the Pacific as a bombardier. In 1943, Zamperini's plane was damaged in combat and the crew was assigned another B-24 plane.

During a search mission for lost aircraft and crewmen, Zamperini's plane crashed due to 'mechanical difficulties.' Three men survived the crash-- Zamperini among them--and they were forced to subsist on rainwater, raw fish and birds.

After thirty-three days at sea Sgt. Francis McNamara died--fourteen days later Zamperini and pilot/Lt. Russell "Phil" Phillips reached land and were captured by the Japanese Navy. The Army declared the men missing, and a year later they were listed as being killed in action. 

Zamperini was taken to a POW camp where he was beaten and held in captivity until the war ended. He returned home to a hero's welcome in 1945. 

Post-war, Zamperini married Cynthia Applewhite, who died in 2001. He became a born-again Christian and was close with Rev. Bill Graham, who helped him go on to become a motivational speaker. Zamperini believed in forgiveness, and later visited with many of the prison guards he met during his time as a POW to tell them he had forgiven them.

Zamperini's incredible story inspired best-selling author Laura Hillenbrand (author of Seabiscuit: An American Legend) to write about it in her book, Unbroken.

Actress Angelina Jolie produced and directed a movie based on Hillenbrand's book that is scheduled to be released on Christmas Day in 2014 by Universal Pictures. An unlikely friendship between the award winning actress and the American hero quickly developed and Zamperini said he knew Jolie would tell his story "in the right way." 

"It is a loss impossible to describe," Jolie said in a statement about Zamperini's death. "We will miss him terribly."

RIP Louis Zamperini--a true American hero, and a man who never let life break him.

Pictured: Bret Baier, Brit Hume, Louis "Louie" Zamperini, and James Rosen at Fox News--