Louis Zamperini (1917-Present)
Zamperini, the son of Italian immigrants, was born in Olean, New York but his family moved to California in the 1920s. Zamperini had a way of finding trouble, so his brother encouraged him to join the track team to help him be more productive. He excelled greatly in track and In 1934 Zamperini set a world interscholastic record for the mile at 00:04:21.2. After setting the record he went on to win the championships the following week with a 04:27.8. His success at track earned him a scholarship to the University of Southern California. Zamperini would then go on to participate in the 1936 Olympics. In 1941 Zamperini enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and became a bombardier. In 1943, Zamperini was sent out on a search and rescue mission over the Pacific when the plane he was on crashed. He and two other survivors (McNamara and Phillips) of the plane crashed survived in the harsh conditions, which included storms, shark attacks, and being strafed by a Japanese fighter plane. After 47 days at sea, one of the other survivors (McNamara) had died, and Zamperini and Phillips were captured by the Japanese Navy. They were held at the POW camp in Ofuna where they endured harsh and sadistic torture until the end of the war. After the war, Zamperini suffered from severe PTSD and met Billy Graham, who helped him and encouraged him to become a Christian inspirational speaker. Zamperini believes in forgiveness, he has publicly forgiven his tormentors who tortured him while he was a captive in the POW camp. In 1998 he traveled to Japan to carry the torch in the 1998 Winter Olypmics. While in Japan he even attempted to contact his main tormentor from the war, Mutsuhiro Watanabe, to cordially meet with him, though Watanabe did not wish to see him again. Zamperini is a living example of the triumph of the human spirit. Despite all of the pain and hardships he has endured, he still has managed to succeed, carry on, and enjoy life.
"Even at my age, I’m trying to improve. Never give up, no matter what. Even if you get last place — finish."