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WWII Hero, 'Unbroken' Subject Louis Zamperini Dies at 97

WWII Hero, 'Unbroken' Subject Louis Zamperini Dies at 97

Stashed in: Stories, Olympics!, Angelina Jolie, R.I.P., Hero!

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Well, this is pretty awesome:

Born in Olean, N.Y., on Jan. 26, 1917, to Italian immigrant parents, Zamperini and his family moved to Torrance, Calif., when he was a child. He was a member of the 1936 U.S. Olympic track team in Berlin running the 5,000 meters, and at 19, was the youngest American qualifier ever in that event. 

In 1941, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force and was deployed to the Pacific as a bombardier on a B-24 Liberator bomber. The story of Unbroken, originally a best-selling book by Hillenbrand set in 1943, follows Zamperini as his Air Force plane crashes in the Pacific. He and two others survived without food and water for 47 days before washing ashore on a Japanese island behind enemy lines, where he was held as a prisoner of war for two years. 

Zamperini was first declared missing at sea and then killed in action, but after the war he returned to his family in America with a hero's welcome and married Cynthia Applewhite in 1946. He remained with her until her death in 2001.

On his 81st birthday in 1988, the former athlete returned to Japan and ran a leg in the Olympic Torch relay for the Winter Olympics in Nagano.

Torrance Airport was renamed Zamperini Field in the 1960s, his former high school named its stadium after him and the entrance plaza at USC's track and field stadium was named Louis Zamperini Plaza in 2004. The football fan continued to attend USC games well into his 90s and became friends with then-quarterback Matt Barkley in 2009.

In May, Zamperini was named grand marshal of the 2015 Rose Parade in Pasadena, which on New Year's Day will feature the theme "Inspiring Stories."In accepting the honor, Zamperini, wearing a USC cap, recalled that Hillenbrand, in researching the book, asked to interview his friends from college and the Army."And now after the book was finished all of my college buddies are dead, all of my war buddies are dead. It's sad to realize that you've lost all your friends," he said. "But I think I made up for it. I made a new friend — Angelina Jolie. And the gal really loves me, she hugs me and kisses me, so I can't complain."

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