Olympian distance runner, World War II hero and celebrated Alumnus Louis Zamperini spoke to a maximum capacity audience about the power of resilience.
The event, entitled “The Great Zamperini: USC Trojan, Olympian and War Hero,” was hosted by the Undergraduate Student Government, USC Spectrum and Program Board in conjuction with the Sol Price School of Public Policy, the Kappa Sigma Fraternity and the Student Alumni Society.
The second event of the Student Alumni Society’s 5 Traits of a Trojan Speaker Series focused on the Trojan trait of courage, and also included a performance by the Sol Price School of Public Policy color guard and a video introduction by Zamperini’s son, Luke.
Zamperini, who greeted the crowd of students, faculty and alumni sporting a cardinal and gold hat with his hands poised in the ‘fight on’ sign, spent the remainder of the evening sharing stories of his life, notably his 8th-place performance in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, his experience being stranded for 47 days after his aircraft crashed into the Japanese-controlled waters of the Pacific Ocean s and his survival as a Japanese prisoner of war during World War II.
Throughout the tales of his time in the Japanese prison camps, Zamperini described his two and a half year survival as a time of little hope.
“Every morning I woke up and expected that this was the day,” Zamperini said. ‘This is the day they’re going to kill us.”
Despite the serious tales of his life as a prisoner of war and his eventual rescue, Zamperini was not without humor.
“The mayor asked me if any good came out of being a prisoner of war in Japan,” Zamperini said. “I said, ‘Yeah, it prepared me for 55 years of married life.”
Zamperini recounted his post-war memories, from his assimilation to life after the war to his religious revitalization after listening to a talk by Christian evangelist Billy Graham. It was these same experiences that Zamperini recollected to encourage students to always be resilient.
“Life is full of problems,” Zamperini said. “Sometimes the problems are difficult, but you have to be resolute.”
When asked about how he survived his experiences in war, Zamperini recounted lessons his track coach taught him.
“You have to take the bull by the horns and fight ‘til the finish,” Zamperini said.
In closing, Zamperini reaffirmed his lifelong membership in the Trojan Family.
“I was in this room when I just got back from the war,” Zamperini said of Bovard Auditorium. “Wherever I go, people see my hat. I’m a Trojan though and through.”
Many students said the event reaffirmed their faith in the strength of the Trojan Family.
“Zamperini embodied every aspect about what I hope I will achieve in this lifetime,” said Kenneth Mang, a sophomore majoring in business administration. “This was an extraordinary opportunity, and I hope to have the chance to see him again.”
Jaideep Chadha, a junior majoring in business administration, said Zamperini’s return to the university at the age of 96 represents the strength and timelessness of the Trojan Family.
“His story is not only inspirational, but it shows how important the Trojan Family is and how much these connections matter,” Chadha said.
Student Alumni Society Co-Director Maheen Sahoo said Zamperini is a great example for Trojans everywhere.
“Louis Zamperini truly embodies what it means to be a Trojan and what it means to be one of the five traits — courageous,” Sahoo said. “I think we’re really lucky to have him here on our campus.”
Morgan Greenwald contributed to this report.