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He did briefly meet Hitler, who shook his hand and said, “Ah, you’re the boy with the fast finish.”
Two years later, in 1938, Zamperini set a national collegiate mile record of 4:08.3, which stood for 15 years. And a few years after that, he was fighting for the Allies.
When he returned to the United States after the war and his ordeals, he fell into alcoholism and nearly ended up divorced from his wife, Cynthia. They remained married, however, for 54 years until her death in 2001. His survivors include a son, Luke; a daughter, Cynthia Garris, and a grandchild.
Billy Graham steps in
Zamperini straightened out his life, he said, after hearing a sermon preached by Billy Graham. For years, he worked in commercial real estate and remained physically active into his 80s and 90s, skiing, running, mountain climbing and skateboarding. He was prominent on the lecture circuit. He also returned to Japan as a missionary and went back again to run a leg of the Olympic torch relay at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano. The route took him past Naoetsu, a snowy, mountainous region where he had been imprisoned.
Zamperini wrote two memoirs, both titled “Devil at My Heels,” the first published in 1956 with a foreword by Graham and the second in 2003 with a foreword by former POW and Sen. John McCain.