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Olympian, vet visits school

Posted: May 1, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: May 1, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Olympian, prisoner of war and World War II veteran Louis Zamperini address an audience of 700 at Trinity Classical Academy recently.

 

Trinity Classical Academy recently hosted a visit from Louis Zamperini, an Olympian, a prisoner of war, an American hero and the subject of the best-selling book “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand.

His story drew about 700 guests, making it the most popular installment of the Valencia private school’s speaker series.

The evening began with an Emmy award-winning video produced by CBS for the Olympics held in Nagano, Japan, in 1998.

Zamperini was a guest that year and ran in the Olympic Torch relay at the age of 81. Decades before, he had been held as a POW in Japan. He said he was happy to return and make new memories.

The video documented his early days as a youngster in Torrance and how he began running in high school, which changed his life and led him to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, where he placed eighth in the 5,000 m race.

His second chance to go for Olympic gold never happened, as the 1940 Olympics in Tokyo were not held because of the war.

He was a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Force, was in a plane crash and lost at sea for 47 days when he washed up on an island occupied by the Japanese and was taken prisoner.

He was presumed dead. His family was presented with a death certificate. And a stadium in Torrance was named for him.

After the war ended, he returned home with memories of being starved, beaten and tortured. He drank heavily and had nightmares every night.

He married Cynthia, who attended a Billy Graham event and suggested that he attend with her.

He did, and after giving his life in service to Christ, his whole life changed. He never had another nightmare, was released from alcoholism, returned to Japan to share the gospel and forgive those who had imprisoned him, and he began ministering to youth.

After the video, Zamperini, now 95 years old, appeared in person to a standing ovation. With his grandson/assistant at his side, he added anecdotes to his story.

He said the experience of being a prisoner of war prepared him for 55 years of marriage.

He talked of coming home as a survivor and still not being able to get even a doughnut crumb because he was still listed as “dead” and as his status had not been updated to put him on the POW list, he was unable to partake in the goodies.

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