- Associated Press - Saturday, August 23, 2014

OLEAN, N.Y. (AP) - A western New York community has installed a granite monument as a tribute to Louis Zamperini, whose story of survival during World War II is the subject of a best-selling book and a Hollywood movie.

Zamperini was born in 1917 in Olean, a city near the Pennsylvania border 60 miles southeast of Buffalo. He was 2 when his Italian immigrant parents moved the family to Torrance, California.

He was a world-class Olympian distance runner in the 1930s. During the war, Zamperini survived 47 days on a raft after his bomber crashed in the Pacific. He spent more than two years as a prisoner of the Japanese. He died in July at 97.

His story was told in the 2010 best-seller “Unbroken.” The Angelina Jolie-directed film is being released in December.

Zamperini’s monument was being unveiled Saturday afternoon in Olean’s War Veterans Park.

Leading the effort to create the tribute was local businessman Jim Bardenett, whose grandparents became friends of Zamperini’s parents during the family’s stay in Olean. The Zamperini family lived in a second-story apartment over the grandparents’ Italian grocery story, and Bardenett’s grandmother was Lou’s godmother, Bardenett said.

A member of the Olean monument committee went to school with Zamperini in California and remained in touch with his family over the years, Bardenett added.

“He wasn’t here long, but we still feel connected to him in various ways,” he said.

The 7-foot-tall, black granite monument weighs 5,000 pounds and features images of Zamperini during his Olympic and wartime years, and a 300-word story about his life.

“We want people to bring their children to that spot and read the story so they don’t forget not only Louis, but all the citizens of Olean who gave their full measure during World War II,” Bardenett said.

Most of the $30,000 cost of the monument and an adjacent granite bench was covered by donations sent in by individuals, churches and organizations, some from as far away as California. The Legislature in Cattaraugus County, where Olean is located, pitched in $5,000, Bardenett said.



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