WWII Veteran and Olympic Runner Louis Zamperini Dies of Pneumonia

Louis Zamperini was a veteran of the Second World War. He left his career as an Olympic runner to fly for the Allied forces, but wound up stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with two of his comrades after an unfortunate craft. After about a month and a half of being lost at sea, Louis Zamperini was found and imprisoned by the Japanese. After a long and eventful life, he is now dead from pneumonia at ninety-seven years of age.

His life has been the subject of much discussion for years. Laura Hillenbrand, author of Seabiscuit, told his story in her novel Unbroken. That novel is now to become the basis for a new film directed by Angelina Jolie. Even before the announcement of Jolie’s adaptation, a Hollywood producer had picked up the autobiography written by Louis Zamperini himself and decided that the veteran would make an excellent subject for a motion picture. The title of Hillenbrand’s book accurately portrays his survival throughout incredibly harsh circumstances. He survived a plane crash, starvation, imprisonment, and eventually alcoholism.

The plane that landed him and his comrades in the middle of the ocean was called the Green Hornet. The Green Hornet, which was on its way to perform a rescue at the time of the crash, was a B-24 bomber on which Louis Zamperini was a bombardier. He and the other survivors were forced to survive upon a single life raft, eating fish whenever they could acquire them. Between starvation and the harshness of the sun, the veteran lost fifty pounds in just forty-seven days, The New York Times reports.

The title of Hillenbrand’s book is actually a reference to the letter the young war hero’s parents received when he was believed to have died in the plane crash. In the letter, FDR refers to Louis Zamperini as a member of “the unbroken line of patriots” who sacrificed their lives for the cause of worldwide liberation from fascism. Even before his amazing survival was known, he had already become one of the war’s symbols of heroism.

Louis Zamperini led an incredible life fraught with danger, yet he made it through the end of the war and many decades thereafter. In December 2014, Angelina Jolie’s new film will portray portions of his life to the movie-going public, allowing the story of the unbroken war hero Louis Zamperini to touch even more lives than it has thus far.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE