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Honoring the Unbroken spirit: USC launches Louis Zamperini Scholarship

The annual award will go to a male or female track and field athlete who best epitomizes the Trojan legend

U.S. Army Air Corps bombadier Louis Zamperini next to a B24 bomber.
Louis Zamperini stands next to a B24 bomber. (Photo/USC University Archives)

In honor of Louis Zamperini and to keep the Trojan legend’s unbreakable spirit alive, USC has launched an endowed scholarship in his name.

The Louis Zamperini Scholarship will be awarded annually to a male or female track and field athlete who best epitomizes Zamperini’s talents and spirit, so he or she can receive the same opportunities Zamperini received as a USC student.

“I had the great pleasure of meeting Louis Zamperini a couple times,” USC Athletic Director Pat Haden said. “It was significant to me not only because of what he did, but my father was a World War II veteran, and I have a strong appreciation for the ‘Greatest Generation.’ ”

Track standout

Zamperini, whose life is the subject of the new film Unbroken, was a high-school track standout in Torrance and was awarded a full scholarship to USC. A three-year letterman, he co-captained the 1940 Trojan squad and was a member of three NCAA championship teams. As a 19 year old, he was the youngest American to qualify for the 5,000-meter run in the 1936 Summer Olympics.

After leaving USC, Zamperini enlisted in the military and in 1943 his plane went down over the Pacific Ocean. He spent 47 days adrift at sea before being rescued by enemy troops. He was detained and tortured as a prisoner of war for two years.

He later became a successful businessman and motivational speaker, eventually traveling to Japan and making amends with his former captors. He died July 2 at age 97.

‘Fight On’ spirit

“Louis exemplifies the ‘Fight On’ spirit,” Haden said. “We honored him all season by wearing a ‘Z’ on our (football) helmets, and now we are endowing a track and field scholarship in his name.”

Zamperini’s incredible story was told in Laura Hillenbrand’s best-seller Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, on which the film Unbroken is based. The movie, directed by Angelina Jolie, goes into general release Christmas Day.

“When I read Unbroken, I thought to myself, ‘This can’t be true. Somebody has to be making this up,’ ” Haden said.

USC track and field student-athletes were treated to a special screening of the movie Wednesday.

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Honoring the Unbroken spirit: USC launches Louis Zamperini Scholarship

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