Louis Zamperini 1917–2014

Louis Zamperini is the subject of the bestselling non-fiction book Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (author of Seabiscuit). The fine film version (a film project that had been bouncing around since 1957!) of Unbroken was directed by Angelina Jolie and was released, appropriately, on Christmas Day.

I met Louie decades ago. He’s the father-in-law and father of two of my family’s closest friends, Mick and Cynthia Garris. Louis was selected as the Grand Marshal for the Tournament of Roses Parade (locally known as The Rose Parade) here in Pasadena tomorrow morning. Because he passed away a few months ago, Cynthia and her brother Luke will be representing their amazing dad in the parade whose theme this year is “Inspiring Stories”. And when it comes to inspiring stories, few, if any, can beat Louie’s.

Louie was an amazing guy who never lost his mischievous spirit or enthusiasm for life. He gave up skateboarding at age 80! I’ll always treasure the time I spent with him. You’ve probably already read the book (it was at the top of the NY Times‘ bestseller list for about four years running), but if you’re one of the very few who hasn’t, pick it up. You’re in for an inspiring, astonishing, emotionally shattering thrill ride. I won’t get into the details of Louie’s extraordinary life (I don’t want to spoil either the book or the movie for you), but I’d like to tell a little Louie-related personal tale.

When my oldest son Andy was in elementary school he got the assignment to interview an adult (it couldn’t be his parents) and then write and give an oral report on the interview. I suggested that Andy call Louie. He did, and Louie generously spent hours on the phone with Andy, telling him his incredible life story.

Andy wrote up his report and then delivered it to his class. After he finished telling the Louis Zamperini story his teacher confronted him.

“Andy,” she said, “the assignment was to interview an adult —- not to make up stories.”

“Yeah, Andy,” the kids in class chimed in, “that never could have happened. You made it all up.”

Try as he could, Andy couldn’t convince his teacher or the class that Louie’s extraordinary tale was true. I had to contact the teacher and verify that Andy had indeed interviewed an adult and that, although seemingly unbelievable, Louis Zamperini’s amazing saga was absolutely true!

Some people have complained that the film version of Unbroken should have also told the emotionally searing tale of his fall and redemption — but that could easily have added another two hours to the film. In actuality, the full Louis Zamperini story would take a nine hour mini-series — at least. Let’s all be thankful that Ms. Jolie poured her heart and soul into this project and came up with a film as fine and stirring as it is.

Farewell, 2014…Happy New Year!

And God bless, you, Louie. You not only changed your life but saved, changed and inspired thousands of others.

7 Responses to “Louis Zamperini 1917–2014”

  1. karen stout says:

    wow… sorry the teacher didn’t believe andy…. that is really telling… I would have!!! i love my students and their creativity, resourcefulness and stamina to write and work on projects. Very interesting…. now I must see this movie.

  2. Rick Catizone says:

    Lou was an amazing man. I suggest everyone read the book for a complete story of the man…..including going back and finding and forgiving his torturers.

  3. Michael Suter says:

    Truly a unbelievable man. He never forgot who he was and where he was headed. I was also amazed about him going back and forgiving his captors even Bird. We all could make this a better world if me lived our lives like Louie. The special program on Fox news that inter vied him and his story.

  4. Michael Suter says:

    Truly a unbelievable man. He never forgot who he was and where he was headed. I was also amazed about him going back and forgiving his captors even Bird. We all could make this a better world if me lived our lives like Louie. The special program on Fox news that interviewed him and his story was very informative.

  5. Rick Catizone says:

    Didn’t know that you knew the family and also met Lou. That’s very cool. And the story about the teacher not believing the story is priceless.

  6. Aaron says:

    Good for you, going to bat for your son, Mr. Stout. And given what Louie went through it may be understandable that it sounds like a fable. I knew they would have to edit the book down to movie size when I read it. However, this is one case where making a three hour film seems justified (and there are many out there where it is not). I think Angelina Jolie made some good choices in getting the core of the story told. As is true in most cases you really need to read the book. The incidents of memory recall under imposed starvation just staggered my mind. Truly he discovered things by living a life that came very near the edges of endurance. Now I want to read his version, Devil at My Heels.

  7. Jim Latimer says:

    I never had the good fortune to meet Mr. Zamperini. I’ve only encountered him through books and the current film. To say that his life was remarkable would be an understatement. From the Olympic stadium of Hitler’s Third Reich, to the prison camps of Japan’s Rising Sun, he met each challenge with a resilience that is hard to fathom. His has been called the Greatest Generation. No other story exemplifies that sentiment as well as that of Louis Zamperini. Hard work, bravery, sacrifice, and sheer determination were hallmarks of his story. In later years, faith and forgiveness would be added to that story. Truly a remarkable man, who set an example for future generations of Americans. I never met Louis Zamperini, but I salute a life well lived.

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