'Unbroken' Olympian And WWII POW Louis Zamperini Dies At 97

Louis Zamperini, an American Olympian and WWII POW died at the age of 97.

'Unbroken' Olympian And WWII POW Louis Zamperini Dies At 97
Wikimedia Commons / Floatjon

Louis Zamperini, the WWII POW and a former Olympian died Thursday of pneumonia. He was 97. NBC has more on his horrifying time in Japan during the war:

"During WWII, Zamperini's bomber was shot down in the Pacific. ... and was later subjected to barbaric war crimes in a Japanese POW camp."

"Down to 65 pounds from 155, it was heartbreaking." (Via NBC

Zamperini was born in 1917, and according to him, was pretty rotten as a kid. That's when he discovered running, and he was so good at it, he became an Olympian. (Via KGTV

Variety notes when his country needed him, he signed up for WWII as an Air Force bombardier. His plane crashed and he survived 47 days in a barrel raft. 

But he was captured, and became a prisoner of war for two years — he was beaten daily.

"Zamperini was near-death when he was captured by the Japanese and taken to a place known as Execution Island."

"They took great joy in telling us that we were going to be executed." (Via CBS)

History notes his fame back in America may have saved him from death because he was used as a propaganda tool by the Japanese. He was released when the war ended in 1945.

He returned home a hero. He even went back to Japan to meet the prison guards and forgive them in his later years.

His story was turned into the best-selling book, "Unbroken," which has now been turned into an Angelina Jolie-directed movie of the same name set for release later this year. (Via Universal Pictures / "Unbroken")

Universal Pictures released a statement to Deadline on the loss of Zamperini:

"​We are so profoundly sad at this moment ... Louis was truly one of a kind. He lived the most remarkable life, not because of the many unbelievable incidents that marked his near century’s worth of years, but because of the spirit with which he faced every one of them.”

Truly the loss of a legend.