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'Unbroken' WWII hero Zamperini was man of great faith | Deseret News National
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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Faith

'Unbroken' WWII hero Zamperini was man of great faith

Louis Zamperini, a 97-year-old Olympian and World War II hero, died this week after suffering from pneumonia. Remembered for surviving two years of torture as a Japanese prisoner of war, Zamperini spent the final decades of his life speaking about how finding faith changed his life and inspired him to forgive his captors.

"My whole life is a ministry," Zamperini once told World Magazine. "That is what we are here for. All we are are voices for the gospel. I'll be here for as long as the Lord can use me."

After returning home from his harrowing experiences in Japan, Zamperini suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, turning to alcohol to ease the symptoms. He finally found peace at a 1949 Los Angeles tent revival led by evangelist Billy Graham, NBC of Southern California reported.

As an inspirational speaker, Zamperini preached the power of forgiveness. NBC described his visit in 1950 to Sugamo Prison in Tokyo to meet with, and forgive, his torturers. Zamperini returned to Japan in 1998 to serve as a torch-bearer in the Nagano Winter Olympics.

Zamperini's story was immortalized in the 2010 best-seller "Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption" by Laura Hillenbrand. Universal Pictures will release a film adaptation of the book in December.

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association published an article in 2011 about how Graham was unaware of the full impact of his influence until he read Hillenbrand's book. "Hillenbrand paints a vivid picture of what happened when Zamperini actually walked into the Billy Graham Crusade, including portions of the sermon he heard," the association reported.

The book, as well as the many articles released since his death Wednesday, described the incredible variety of feats Zamperini achieved in his lifetime. He was a star track athlete in high school and college, competed in the Olympics, served as a bombardier on a plane shot down over the South Pacific and survived 47 days on a raft before being captured by the Japanese. Most recently, Zamperini was named grand marshal of the 2015 Rose Parade, NBC reported.

His performance in the 5,000-meter race at the 1936 Berlin Olympics was impressive enough for Hitler to request a personal audience, The New York Times reported. Zamperini finished eighth in the race, but ran a 56-second final lap.

"He will be remembered by many for his achievements during the 1936 Olympics and for his heroic service during the war," wrote blogger Denny Burk. "Nevertheless, he lived most of his life after the war. And that life was indelibly marked by the grace of God."

Email: kdallas@deseretnews.com Twitter: @kelsey_dallas