WWII Hero Who Survived 47 Days on Raft Dead at 97

Louis Zamperini was subject of the best-selling book 'Unbroken'
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 3, 2014 8:57 AM CDT
In this Jan. 1, 1943 file photo taken at an unknown location, Louis Zamperini, a bombardier in the Army Air Force, peers out of hatch nose of a bomber.   (AP Photo, File)
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(Newser) – Louis Zamperini had a resume that truly impressed: Olympian, World War II POW/hero, and the subject of best-selling book Unbroken and the upcoming Angelina Jolie film based on it. Zamperini has died at 97 following a bout of pneumonia, "having overcome insurmountable odds at every turn in his life," reads a statement released by his family today, per the Hollywood Reporter. Born in New York in 1917, Zamperini made the US Olympic track team in 1936, placing 8th in the 5,000 meters in Berlin. His 56-second final lap, however, was so impressive it earned him a one-on-one meeting with Adolf Hitler, the Chicago Tribune reports.

In 1941, he'd fight Hitler's ideals as a B-24 Liberator bomber with the US Army Air Forces. When his plane crashed into the Pacific in 1943, he and two others survived on a raft in shark-infested waters for 47 days without food or water before being captured by the Japanese and held as prisoners of war for two years—a story told in Laura Hillenbrand's bestseller Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption. Jolie—who directed the film based on the book, which opens Christmas Day—says the death of her "close friend" is "a loss impossible to describe."

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