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Billy Graham’s words rescued war hero in 1949

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Louis Zamperini and Billy Graham at the Charlotte-born evangelist’s 1948 crusade in Los Angeles.

Nightmares, alcoholism, revenge fantasies: Those were the demons that defined Louis Zamperini’s life in 1949 when he first heard the words of an up-and-coming preacher named Billy Graham.

Zamperini’s wife, who had threatened divorce if he didn’t get help, had dragged him to a tent in Los Angeles, where Graham was preaching at a revival that would launch his national career.

A World War II veteran who had survived torture in a Japanese prison camp, Zamperini had resisted Graham’s sermon at first. But as the evangelist spoke about how people in despair always turn to God, Zamperini remembered a war-time prayer promising a life of service if he could just stay alive.

“Billy Graham’s message hit me between the eyes.…I knew my whole life had changed,” Zamperini told the Observer in 2011, just days before traveling to Charlotte’s Billy Graham Library to sign copies of “Unbroken,” the best-selling book that told the story of his incredible life.

Zamperini. who died this week at age 97, became a born-again Christian that night in Los Angeles, spent his post-war life helping juvenile delinquents and others – and spoke at Billy Graham crusades in 1958 (in San Francisco) and in 1963 (in Los Angeles).

That 2011 appearance at the library drew long lines. In a video made that day by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Zamperini saluted the Charlotte-born evangelist for steering him to Christ. “Thank God for Billy Graham,” he said. “He’s indelible in my heart and mind.”

To watch videos of Zamperini at the library and with Graham in 1958: billygraham.org

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