The Archive Collection

From the Archives: Billy Graham & Louis Zamperini

July 20, 2021

Louis Zamperini was a jaded, disillusioned man when he first came to the Los Angeles Billy Graham Crusade in 1949. While he had achieved notoriety at the 1936 Olympic Games in track, the beginning of World War II changed his life when he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps.

Louis Zamperini and his wife Cynthia

In 1943, while on a mission to search for a pilot whose plane had gone down, Zamperini’s plane suffered mechanical failure, and crashed into the ocean. He and another survivor managed to stay afloat on a raft for 47 days before they washed ashore in enemy territory. They were captured by the Japanese who tortured and starved them for two years until the end of the war. During this time, the U.S. government had already declared Zamperini dead.

When he returned home following his release from the Japanese, Zamperini suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. He turned to alcohol to soothe his pain, and he and his wife were approaching divorce when they attended the Billy Graham Crusade being held in Los Angeles. It was during one of those nights that Billy Graham’s message spoke to Zamperini’s heart, and he walked forward to accept Jesus as his Lord and Savior.

Following the Crusade, Billy Graham and Zamperini became good friends. Zamperini offered his testimony at several Crusade events, speaking of the hope and forgiveness he found in Christ.

Louis Zamperini and Billy Graham

This month’s archives feature is a set of Olympic pens given to Billy Graham by Louis Zamperini.

Olympic pens gifted to Billy Graham by Louis Zamperini

To see more of Billy Graham’s memorabilia from his friendships with celebrities and world leaders, plan your visit to the Billy Graham Library.

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