American hero Louis Zamperini died today at the age of 97.

As an Olympic Track star, “Louie” was on the road to athletic greatness. He took 8th in the Olympic 5,000 Meter, and eventually set a collegiate record for the mile.

But in 1941, he enlisted in the US Army and joined the crew of a B-24 bomber. Mechanical issues led to a crash in the South Pacific, and his eventual capture by Japanese forces.

The rest of the war was spent in a series of Japanese POW camps where he was severely mistreated.

When the war was over, Zamperini was liberated and returned to the US. But memories of his multi-year ordeal continued to haunt him. He sunk into alcoholism, and was continually plagued by nightmares and memories. His marriage was struggling, as was the rest of his life.

In what seemed like a final effort to save his life, Zamperini attended a Billy Graham tent meeting, where he was introduced to a message of forgiveness… and Jesus.

It was the first night in two years and a half that I didn’t have a nightmare. And I didn’t have one since. The forgiveness was the complete healing factor in my life.

The rest of his life was dedicated to forgiveness. Including, going to meet many of the prison guards who left scars on his life.

The most important thing of my Christian life was to know that I not only forgave them verbally, but to see them face to face and tell them that I forgave them.

You can see more of his story in this video, or read an amazing account in the book Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand