Hope from Life’s Struggles

Louis Zamperini was born in New York in 1917. His parents were immigrants from Italy and neither he nor his parents spoke English. Louis was a subject of bullying and that led Louis to having a rebellious childhood.

Louis’ older brother encouraged him to try out for his school’s track team. After a humiliating beginning of his racing career, Louis quickly became known for his racing achievements. He set the high school record for the mile and gained the attention of colleges.

While at USC, Louis tried out for the Olympics and qualified for the Berlin Olympics. While on the ship traveling to Europe, Louis gained weight due to the food provided. He had never had much food at home. While he didn’t win his event, finishing 8th, he did draw attention for the final lap he ran.

When the U.S. entered World War II, Louis enlisted and became a second lieutenant. He was a bombardier. On one mission, his plane was attacked and five of the crew were wounded. He was able to save the lives of two of the men.

A later mission was not as successful. Louis and two others were the only survivors of the plane they were flying on. After 47 days adrift, Louis was taken prisoner. They were severely beaten and held in captivity until the end of the war. Louis was presumed dead, and it wasn’t until the end of the war that his family learned he was still alive.

Following the war, Louis suffered from nightmares and began drinking heavily. It was a Billy Graham crusade that turned his life around. Louis established a foundation with a mission of transforming the lives of troubled youth. Using his own story, Louis’ foundation tries to provide hope to young people with three messages:

  • Life after hardship
  • Forgiveness after pain
  • Belonging after losing oneself

Louis practiced forgiveness as a personal virtue. When the Winter Olympics were scheduled for Japan, he ran one of the legs of the Olympic Torch relay, using this as an opportunity to show his forgiveness. He was close to 81 years old at the time. He passed away in 2014, 70 years after he was declared dead.

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“You taught me that with dignity and will that I can overcome any situation life has to throw at me.” – Abigail, 15 (one of the youths that Louis has inspired)

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