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from the Billy Graham Library

Olympic Runner and World War II Hero, Louis Zamperini

July 26, 2012

Categories: Billy Graham


The world is gearing up for the 2012 Olympic Games, and the Torch is making its way to Olympic Stadium in London. There, the cauldron will be lit during the opening ceremony Friday evening.

Soon, all eyes will be on athletes around the world as they attempt to achieve the ultimate honor in their sport – Olympic Gold.

Last summer, hundreds of fans piled into The Billy Graham Library to meet a special Olympic star – and World War II hero – Louis Zamperini. Zamperini was on hand to sign copies of Laura Hillenbrand’s bestselling book Unbroken. The book recounts Zamperini’s journey from the Olympic stage through difficult times, including being a prisoner of war during World War II.

Described as one of the great middle-distance runners of his time, he proved it in 1936 Berlin Olympics, when he ran the fastest 5000 run by any American that year. He just missed seventh place, but had run his last lap in 56 seconds – a rare feat in distance running in the 1930s. Laura Hillenbrand captures this account in the book.

Despite the accolades, it’s when he talks of beginning a relationship with Jesus Christ that his eyes light up. Zamperini credits the 1949 Billy Graham Crusade in Los Angeles, as the major turning point in his life. (By the way, you can see a replica of the “Canvas Cathedral” from the 1949 Los Angeles Crusade on the Journey of Faith tour at the Library).

The 94-year-old Zamperini opened his mailbox last year and found a letter he will always treasure.

“Dear Louis,” wrote Billy Graham, “My associate read me parts of the new book about you yesterday. What a life you have lived. What a description you have in the book of your conversion to Christ in 1949, and the great part that [your wife] Cynthia played in it, which I was aware of, but not in such detail. I had tears in my eyes and praise in my heart for what God has done through you.”

Learn more about Louis Zamperini and his amazing journey in this article on BillyGraham.org.