One of the most memorable Trojans in history, Louis Zamperini, the Olympic athlete turned World War II hero who was named grand marshal for the 2015 Rose Parade, sadly passed accompanied by his family and friends at age 97.
A standout track-and-field star at USC and Torrance High School, Zamperini competed in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, where he was the top U.S. finisher in the 5,000-meter race. Zamperini got the chance to meet Adolf Hitler face to face, and yet these heralded accomplishments are small on his long list of life-changing moments.
Zamperini retired from running during World War II and joined the U.S. armed forces. While serving as a bombardier on a reconnaissance mission, his aircraft crashed into the Pacific Ocean. He survived 47 days on an inflatable raft in shark-infested waters until being captured by the Japanese. He remained there in captivity for two years, during which time he was tortured, and was eventually listed as being killed in action by the U.S. government before returning in shocking fashion.
"He recently faced the greatest challenge of his life with a life-threatening case of pneumonia. 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." -The Zamperini family recounting Louis' final days, via the Hollywood Reporter
An icon on the track, in the field of battle and in his personal life, Zamperini gave countless public speaking tours across the nation including his alma matter, the University of Southern California. "I never thought about losing. I was only thinking about winning," Zamperini said to an auditorium full of USC students back in 2011. "And I didn't think about dying because I was only thinking about living."
His legendary impact could even be traced to his 81st birthday back in January 1988, when Zamperini returned to Japan and ran a leg in the Olympic Torch relay for the Winter Olympics in Nagano. Even in his hometown of Torrance, the small municipal Airport was renamed Zamperini Field in the 1960s, his former high school named their stadium after him and the entrance plaza at USC's track and field stadium was named Louis Zamperini Plaza in 2004.
Even into his late 90s, the passionate USC Football fan was willing to lend his words of wisdom to everyone. In his personal autobiography "Unbroken", depicted beautifully by Laura Hillenbrand, we get a humbling perspective on the perils of true persistence and shear determination. The must-see story will hit motion pictures this December, starring actress and close friend Angelina Jolie.
What Louis may most be remembered for however, was his kindred spirit that both stood firm against massive adversity and also gained solace in the comfort and safety of the good lord. He showered this enthusiasm amongst those he encountered. "All I want to tell young people is that you're not going to be anything in life unless you learn to commit to a goal. You have to reach deep within yourself to see if you are willing to make the sacrifices," Zamperini once preached.
Thank you Louie, arguably the greatest Trojan of them all. Your perseverance, strength, charisma and shear determination are commendable and will be always be remembered. As a small personal aside, for someone whose met you at USC, heard your empowering words growing up as a Torrance native, and continues to equally find relaxation in running, your passing hits close to home. But like many others, I'm extremely proud to have learned more about your great life. RIP Louie Zamperini, Fight On Forever!
SOCIAL MEDIA REACTION
The greatest Trojan from the Greatest Generation: Fight On Forever, Louis Zamperini! pic.twitter.com/XdDM2l5ynV— The Spirit of Troy (@USCTMB) July 3, 2014
Today we remember Louis Zampirini - "One of the greatest Americans & Trojans of all time" said Pres Nikias. pic.twitter.com/0GwbMLO8kt— USC (@USC) July 3, 2014
God bless and take care of one of the greatest Trojans of them all, Lou Zamperini.— Pat Haden (@ADHadenUSC) July 3, 2014
Very sad to hear of Louis Zamperini's passing. A true hero and tremendous inspiration to many. He will be missed. pic.twitter.com/bn3xESt8qZ— Pete Carroll (@PeteCarroll) July 3, 2014
Extremely sad to hear of Louis Zamperini’s passing.. The ultimate hero in my book, and a model American/Trojan— Matthew Barkley (@MattBarkley) July 3, 2014
It is a loss impossible to describe. We are all so grateful for how enriched our lives are for having known him. We will miss him terribly.— Angelina Jolie (@ActressJolie) July 3, 2014
So proud to share a connection with Louis Zamperini, a fellow Trojan and Torrance native. He was a true American hero. #FightOnForever— Steve Sarkisian (@CoachSark) July 3, 2014
GREAT READING MATERIAL
"Unbroken" Is Tale of Persistence and Strength---Neon Tommy
Louis Zamperini: The Unbreakable Olympian---Neon Tommy
The Story of Louis Zamperini---Huffington Post