War hero Zamperini dies at age 97
Seventy years ago, the world was convinced that Louis Zamperini was dead. There had been no word of the track star and former Olympian since his World War II bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean. The military told his parents he was dead, and an annual collegiate track competition named one of its races in his memory.
But Zamperini was alive, and very much so. After surviving 47 days in a life raft in shark-infested waters and enduring two years as a Japanese prisoner of war, Zamperini was liberated in time to attend the second running of the invitational mile that had been named in his memory. It was a story fitting for a man who lived a life on the edge of endurance, an ordinary man who did extraordinary things — all while sustained by a hope and strength that at times seemed superhuman.
Zamperini, a war hero, Olympian and the subject of a celebrated book and upcoming movie on his harrowing story of survival against all odds, died after a long battle with pneumonia, his family said Thursday in a statement. He was 97.
Zamperini outlived almost all of those who watched him weave his way through his remarkable life, but the outpouring from those who came to know and love the man in his later years was as immediate and intense as the life he lived.
Laura Hillenbrand, the author of the best-selling book “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption,” said over countless hours of interviews Zamperini became a surrogate grandfather and beloved friend who helped her cope with her own debilitating illness, chronic fatigue syndrome.
“In a life of almost unimaginable drama, he experienced supreme triumphs, but also brutal hardship, incomprehensible suffering, and the cruelty of his fellow man. But Louie greeted every challenge of his long journey with singular resilience, determination and ingenuity, with a ferocious will to survive and prevail, and with hope that knew no master,” said Hillenbrand, whose book is being made into a movie directed by Angelina Jolie and is scheduled for a December release by Universal.
“His story is a lesson in the potential that lies within all of us to summon strength amid suffering, love in the face of cruelty, joy from sorrow.”
Jolie echoed those sentiments Thursday.
“It is a loss impossible to describe,” she said in a statement. “We are all so grateful for how enriched our lives are for having known him. We will miss him terribly.”
His wife, Cynthia Applewhite, whom he married in 1946, died in 2001. His survivors include daughter Cynthia, son Luke and grandchildren.
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Stephen King, Nora Roberts and Donna Tartt are among the hundreds of authors who have added their names to an online letter criticizing Amazon.com for restricting access to works published by Hachette Book Group.
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