Louis Zamperini

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Louis Zamperini
Louis Zamperini
Zamperini at the May 2014 announcement of the 2015 Tournament of Roses Grand Marshal
Full name Louis Silvie Zamperini
Birthday/Birthplace (1917-01-26)January 26, 1917
Olean, New York, U.S.
Deceased July 2, 2014(2014-07-02)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch United States Army Air Forces
Years of service 1941–1945
Rank Captain
Unit 372nd Bombardment Squadron, 307th Bombardment Group

World War II

  • Pacific War
Awards Won Distinguished Flying Cross
Purple Heart (2)
Air Medal (4)
Prisoner of War Medal
Wife/Husband Cynthia Applewhite
(m. 1946–2001; her death)
Kid(s) Cissy Zamperini (Daughter), Luke Zamperini (Son)

Louis Silvie «Louie» Zamperini (Olean, New York, January 26, 1917 – Los Angeles, California, July 2, 2014) was an American athlete of Italian origin who participated in the Olympic Games of Berlin 1936. Participated in the Second World War, in which he managed to survive 47 days in a raft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, after crashing the plane in which he was traveling. He was later transferred to a prison camp in Japan (Ōfuna) where he endured constant physical abuse and forced labor.

His story of self-improvement was narrated by Laura Hillenbrand in the book “Invincible: A History of Survival, Courage and Resistance During World War II” that became a bestseller. This work was taken to the cinema in 2014, under the name of Unbroken directed by Angelina Jolie.

Louis_Zamperini’s Biography


Louis Zamperini was born on January 26, 1917 in the town of Olean in the state of New York. Son of two Italian immigrants, Anthony Zamperini and Louise Dossi, was the second of the family, behind his brother Pete. The other two sisters of Louis were Virginia and Silvie. Two years later the family moved to Torrance in California.

Since he was little he was called by his family Louie. He had a childhood with difficulties because he constantly got into trouble and fights with his classmates, motivated by his foreign origin.


His older brother Pete, who trained on the athletic team at Torrance High School, began to encourage his brother to join the team and stop getting into trouble. Louie started training with him and in his first year in the team he finished fifth in his first race.

Motivated by his brother, Louis began to train harder, for which he stopped smoking and drinking alcohol and began to win more and more races, so he began to be better known in the institute and in the village . In 1934 he broke the school record by one mile and qualified for the state championship, where he once again won, winning a scholarship at the University of Southern California.

He competed with the United States Olympic team at the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936, in the 5,000 meter modality. He reached the final in which he finished eighth and broke the lap record with 56 seconds, being, at 19 years old, the youngest American Olympic athlete of the specialty until that moment. At the end of the race Adolf Hitler was impressed with the record and requested to know him personally; when he shook his hand he said (through the interpreter) “Ah, you are the boy with the quick end”.

Military life

Louis Zamperini enlisted in the Air Corps of the United States Army in September 1941 and obtained a commission as a second lieutenant. He was sent to the Pacific island Funafuti as a bomber in a Consolidated B-24 Liberator named Super Man. In April 1943 during a bombing mission against the island of Nauru occupied by Japanese forces, the Super Man was badly damaged in combat and some crew members were injured, so the healthy members of the crew were transferred to Hawaii awaiting reassignment. Zamperini, along with some other ex-companions of the Super Man crew, were assigned to carry out a search mission for a lost aircraft. They were given another B-24 called Green Hornet although it was known among the pilots for its long list of mechanical faults called “lemon”. On May 27, 1943 while searching from the air, new mechanical difficulties caused the B-24 to crash into the ocean some 1,370 kilometers (850 miles) south of Oahu, killing eight of the eleven men to board.

The three survivors (pilot Russell Allen “Phil” Phillips, Francis “Mac” McNamara and Zamperini), with little food and no water, subsisted on rainwater, small fish that ate raw and birds that landed on his raft. With the little tools they could rescue, men were able to survive on the tiny raft. They caught a couple of albatrosses, which devoured and used some parts of the birds as bait to catch fish, all while defending themselves as they could from the constant attacks of sharks and were almost overturned by a storm. In addition, they were machine-gunned several times by a Japanese bomber, who jabbed his life raft, but no one was injured. McNamara died after 33 days at sea.

On the 47th day adrift, Zamperini and Phillips landed in the Marshall Islands where they were immediately captured by elements of the Imperial Japanese Navy. The aviators were kept in captivity, severely beaten and mistreated until the end of the war in August 1945. They were initially held in the Kwajalein atoll, after 42 days they were relocated to the Japanese prisoner of war camp in Ōfuna. Later Zamperini was transferred to the Ōmori prison camp in Tokyo and finally transferred to the Naoetsu camp in northern Japan, where he remained until the end of the war. Zamperini was constantly tormented by a ruthless prison guard, Sergeant Mutsuhiro “the bird” Watanabe, who was later included by General Douglas MacArthur with the number 23 on the list of the 40 most wanted war criminals. The then Major Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, imprisoned in the same camp, mentions in his book, Baa Baa Black Sheep, that he discussed with Zamperini Italian recipes to distract himself from hunger and the brutal conditions of the prison camp.

Initially Zamperini was declared as dead in combat; When he finally returned home he was received as a hero in 1945.


His death was announced when the government of the United States gave him for dead in combat after having found his Liberator B-24 aircraft in 1943, without finding any survivors. President Franklin D. Roosevelt even sent a formal condolence note to Zamperini’s parents in 1944. However, Louis Zamperini died on July 2, 2014 at his 97-year-old home in Los Angeles because of pneumonia. .

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