Carmel Valley: Louis Zamperini inspires at the Grand Del Mar

By Jodi Kennedy


“Even at my age, I’m trying to improve. Never give up, no matter what. Even if you get last place — finish.” — Louis Zamperini

Those are the words of one of America’s truly great heroes.

At five foot four and barely more than 100 pounds, this tiny smiling man is a giant. Louis Zamperini, Olympic athlete and World War II veteran, has more life in him than an army of men three times his size. His story of Olympic greatness and triumph over torture as a Japanese POW, is currently the subject of Seabiscuit author Laura Hillenbrand’s best-selling book “Unbroken.”

If you’ve read the book, then you already know that Zamperini was a medal-winning Olympic runner, heroically served as a World War II pilot, survived adrift at sea for an astonishing 47 days and, finally, triumphed over two-plus years being tortured as a Japanese POW. But that’s only half the story. The other half can’t be told, it has to be felt and seen by meeting the man himself. And that’s just what about 100 lucky people recently got to do.

A magical evening, held at the Grand Del Mar, was hosted by Jackie Cohen and Dan Negroni, and made possible by the generous donation of Doug Manchester. Guests were treated to cocktails and appetizers and, more importantly, a hearty serving of Louis Zamperini. Following a video presentation produced by ABC television, the crowd sat in rapt attention as the diminutive 94-year old, clad in his trademark track suit and USC baseball cap, shared his incredible story and the lessons he learned about survival and the power of forgiveness. Although there was barely a dry eye in the house, there was also plenty of laughter as Louis told his tales with his characteristic wit and an unbelievably bright outlook.

Following his talk, guests were given the opportunity to ask their own questions. Mostly people wanted to know: “How? How did you survive and live to come out smiling?”

As Jackie Cohen puts it: “When I first met this man, I knew he had something great and important to share with the world. I wanted to do whatever I could to help make that happen.” And that’s just what she did.