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WWII Hero, Olympian Louis Zamperini Dies At 97

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Louis Zamperini presents an award at the 2011 Golden Goggles at JW Marriott Los Angeles at L.A. LIVE on November 20, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Noel Vasquez/Getty Images for USA Swimming)

Louis Zamperini presents an award at the 2011 Golden Goggles at JW Marriott Los Angeles at L.A. LIVE on November 20, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Noel Vasquez/Getty Images for USA Swimming)

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LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Walk into the entrance of the track stadium at the USC and you’ll pass Louis Zamperini Plaza. Former USC track coach Ron Alice says the name etched in concrete honors a treasure.

“The plaques and so forth that are on there represent the various segments of his life,” said Alice.

That life is the subject of a best-selling book and a movie, directed by Angelina Jolie, set to be released Christmas 2014.

Zamperini grew up in Torrance, California. The city’s airport is named after him. He competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics where he was Jesse Owen’s roommate.

After that, Zamperini attended USC where he’s the only national champion in the outdoor mile in school history. During World War II, he survived 47 days on a raft in shark-infested waters after a plane crash. Then, he spent 2 years in a Japanese prison camp.

Zamperini would often share his inspiring life story to student athletes. Rocky Seto met him as an assistant Football coach at USC and is now on the coaching staff for the Super Bowl champions, the Seattle Seahawks.

Seto felt a connection to this deeply spiritual man.

“Accomplishments, war hero, all those things may have described him,” said Seto. “But what I believe defined him was his relationship with Jesus Christ without question.”

Zamperini had been battling pneumonia in recent days. His family released a statement saying:

After a 40 day battle for his life, he peacefully passed away in the presence of his entire family.

In May, Zamperini was named the Grand Marshal of the 2015 Rose Parade.

He died at the age of 97 but even in his sunset years — he was known to enjoy rock climbing and skateboarding.

The USC motto is “fight on.” Mr. Zamperini exemplified that motto through his courage, his determination and his influence on others. He stood for the things that are good. Now, the story that has taught so many to ‘fight on’ will certainly live on.

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