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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Former Trojan and World War II Hero Louis Zamperini Dies

The former Trojan track champion, Olympian, and World War II hero was 97.

Former USC track champion and Olympic distance runner Louis Zamperini, who is most known for his heroic efforts during World War II, died on Wednesday of pneumonia. He was 97. 

Zamperini is considered an American hero for his inspirational survival story during World War II. Zamperini was a bombardier in the Army Corps when his plane was downed in the Pacific. He was lost at sea for 47 days, and became a prisoner of war in Japan for two and a half years. 

"I am saddened to learn of the passing of one of our finest Angelenos, Louis Zamperini, a World War II hero, Olympian and inspiration for our nation. My thoughts and prayers are with his friends and family, particularly his son Luke, Chief Inspector for Training and Emergency Management at the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety," said L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti.

In 2010, a biography detailing his survival story was written by Laura Hillenbrand. It was called "Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption." The biography was adapted into a movie directed by Angelina Jolie to be released in December. 

"It is a loss impossible to describe. We are all so grateful for how he enriched our lives are for having known him. We will miss him terribly," said Jolie.

Zamperini wrote two autobiographies of his own, both titled "Devil at My Heels" in 1956 and 2003. 

Before the war, the Torrance native placed eighth in the 5,000-meter run at the 1936 Berlin Olympics while still in high school.

Zamperini was a member and co-captain of the USC track team from 1938-1940. Zamperini was the NCAA champion in the mile run in 1938 and 1939. He set a record mile time of 4:08, which lasted for 15 years. Zamperini was inducted into the USC Athletic Hall of Fame in 1999 and received the NCAA Inspiration Award in 2011. The entrance to the USC Loker Track Stadium is named after him. 

The Louis Zamperini Plaza at the Loker Track Stadium.
The Louis Zamperini Plaza at the Loker Track Stadium.

"Louis Zamperini was one of the greatest Trojans of all time, as well as a true American hero," said USC athletic director Pat Haden. "He was the embodiment of the USC motto, 'Fight On.' All of us in the Trojan Family have a deep appreciation for what he did for USC and for our country, and we mourn the passing of this American legend, this national treasure." 

Current USC head football coach Steve Sarkisian tweeted his condolences. 

"So proud to share a connection with Louis Zamperini, a fellow Trojan and Torrance native. He was a true American hero. #FightOnForever," Sarkisian said. 

Sarkisian also said the football team would have Zamperini in their hearts during the upcoming 2014 season. 

Former Trojan quarterback Matt Barkley developed a close relationship with Zamperini after he sent Barkley a gift with a personal note, as described in this Sporting News story.

"Extremely sad to hear of Louis Zamperini's passing. The ultimate hero in my book and a model American/Trojan," Barkley tweeted. 

Zamperini was to be the Grand Marshal of the 2015 Rose Parade in January. No grand marshal will replace him, according to the Los Angeles Times. 


See how others are reacting to Zamperini's death, here.

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