Captain Louis Zamperini was born in Olean, New York in 1917 to parents that had immigrated to the United States from Italy. They moved to Torrance, California during the 1920's. He graduated from Torrance High School and the University of Southern California.
During his high school years he set the world's interscholastic mile record which stood for 20 years, and as an American Olympian he was first American to finish the 5000 meter run during the 1936 Berlin Olympics. While at USC was awarded a two time NCAA mile championship and was selected All American Miler in 1938.
In 1941 he enlisted in the Army Air Corps stationed at Kahuku Air Base, Hawaii as a bombadier on a B-24. Assigned to the 42nd Squadron his missions included Wake Island, Nauru Island, and the Tarawa islands. On May 27, 1943 his plane went down in the South Pacific during a search and rescue operation. He was captured and taken prisoner along with a crew member by the Japanese Navy and held for two and one half years, being released at the end of the war.
Following the war he was promoted to Captain. In 1950 he traveled to Japan as a missionary spreading the gospel of forgiveness to the prison guards of camp Souetsu that held him in captivity. Years later he was honored by the Japanese people as a distinguished Olympic Torch bearer for the 1998 Olympic Winter games in Nagano and he laid flowers at the Japanese World War II Memorial. He has carried the Olympic Torch at three other events.
He was the founder of the Victory Boys' Camps, ran a program for retired people in Hollywood, and remains a youth counselor at his church. He continues to live an active and healthy lifestyle. Locations bearing his name are Zamperini Stadium at Torrance High School, Zamperini Airfield in Torrance, and Louis Zamperini Plaza at USC. He has published three books including "Devil At My Heals". He was married to Cynthia Applewhite for 55 years until cancer took her in 2001. They have two children, Cissy and Luke.
Captain Zamperini's awards include the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters; the Purple Heart with oak leaf cluster; the Philippine Liberation Medal; and the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal and American Campaign Medal with battle stars.