Louis Zamperini, a man who embodied American history, is dead at 97. A New York native and son of Italian immigrants, Zamperini ran at the Berlin Olympics, fought in World War II, and inspired a book that become a best-seller.
NBC reports that Zamperini died, surrounded by his entire family, after a 40-day struggle with pneumonia.
Here is what you need to know:
1. He Was the Children of Italian Immigrants
NBC Los Angeles reports that Zamperini was born in Italian immigrants in Odeon, New York, on January 26, 1917. His family later moved to Torrance in Southern California.
In interviews, Zamperini says that he was a poorly behaved child, and after being chased all over town, it made sense that he join the track team. He reportedly set his high school’s record for the mile run with a time of 4:21.
2. He Ran Track in the 1936 Olympics
Zamperini enrolled at the University of Southern California on a track scholarship when, at the age of 19, he became the youngest qualifying member of the U.S. Olympic track team. He went to the 1936 Berlin Olympics where he finished at the top of the American team, coming in eighth place overall.
NBC reports that his final lap, run in an astounding 56 seconds, encouraged Adolf Hitler to request a personal meeting with Zamperini.
3. In WWII, He Was Captured and Tortured for 2 Years
RIP Louis Zamperini. Forever my hero… pic.twitter.com/J9PJ1gNGp5
— james scott brantley (@_jscottbrantley) July 3, 2014
Zamperini left competitive athletics in 1941 and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force where he became a second lieutenant and sent as a bombardier to the Pacific.
In April 1943, his damaged plane went down over the Pacific ocean where he and two crew mates drifted for 47 days surviving on rain water and small fish. Finally, he was captured by the Japanese navy and held as a POW for 2 years, routinely being beaten and tortured.
4. He Was Selected as the 2015 Rose Parade Grand Marshall
Zamperini was honored this year by being selected as the Grand Marshal of the famous Rose parade. He would have assumed his position in 2015. You can watch the selection ceremony above.
5. Angelina Jolie Is Turning a Book About Zamperini into a Film
Zamperini’s life was the subject of a 2010 book Unbroken, written by Laura Hillenbrand. The book was a New York Times best seller, and Time Magazines #1 book of the year. The book is currently being adapted into a film by Angelina Jolie. You can watch an interview with them together above.