Former Olympian and WWII hero Louis Zamperini was an ideal choice to be a special guest at the Boys & Girls Club’s luncheon fundraiser last week at Earl Warren Showgrounds. The 96-year-old’s life story fits perfectly with the organization’s mission “to inspire and enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.” The first area Boys & Girls Club of Santa Barbara County (BGCSB) was formed in Goleta in 1952; now there are four branches in the county, offering youth after school programs such as sports, art, music, and homework assistance.
A crowd of 327 filled Warren Hall for the event (one family of five came all the way from Kansas to hear Zamperini speak). Attentive, polite BGCSB members served beverages and a pasta lunch to attendees, who chatted with their table mates before the famous POW took the stage. Zamperini’s story is a jaw-dropping tale of survival and redemption. He was a misdirected youth from Torrance, California, whose life changed after joining the high school track team. A powerful runner, he participated in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin as a 19-year-old; although he came in eighth place in the 5,000 meters, his sights were set on the 1940 games in Tokyo, Japan. He would eventually make it to Japan—not as an Olympian, but rather a prisoner of war. On a rescue mission over the Pacific, the B-24 Zamperini was flying in crashed, killing eight of the 11 men on board. The Army Air Corps second lieutenant and two other crewmembers spent 47 days at sea, drifting 2,000 miles before being captured by the Japanese. Zamperini’s dramatic existence was documented in award-winning author Laura Hildebrand’s best-selling 2010 book Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption.
The event raised $58,000 for summer programs and summer camp scholarships. For more information, call 681-1315 or visit unitedbg.org.