World War II Hero Louis Zamperini Named Grand Marshal Of Rose Pa - Los Angeles News | FOX 11 LA KTTV

World War II Hero Louis Zamperini Named Grand Marshal Of Rose Parade

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(FOX 11 / CNS) Former Olympic track star and World War II hero Louis Zamperini will be grand marshal of the 2015 Rose Parade, Tournament of Roses officials announced today.

The 97-year-old's life story inspired the best-selling book and upcoming movie "Unbroken.'' His military record includes surviving 47 days on a raft after the bomber he was on crashed in the Pacific, then enduring repeated torture for two years as a POW.

"Louis Zamperini's life story illustrates the strength of human spirit in many ways,'' Tournament of Roses President Richard L. Chinen told the crowd at the Tournament House in Pasadena. "From becoming a young sports hero in Southern California to surviving 47 days on an inflatable raft in the Pacific Ocean and then persevering for more than two years held in captivity in Japan, Louis now lives as an enduring symbol of perseverance, heroism and forgiveness,'' Chinen said.

Zamperini -- who will lead the 126th Rose Parade, themed "Inspiring Stories'' -- noted during his speech today that all of his fellow prisoners of war and college friends interviewed for the "Unbroken'' book have died.

"It's sad to realize that you've lost all your friends, but I figure I made up for it. I made a new friend -- Angelina Jolie,'' he said to a cheering crowd.

In December, the film version of "Unbroken'' -- directed by Jolie -- will be released by Universal Pictures. Born in 1917 to Italian immigrants, Zamperini moved to Torrance in 1919 and became a world-class distance runner by the time he graduated from Torrance High School, setting a world interscholastic record in the mile.

His track skills won him a scholarship to USC, where he was a member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity. At age 19, Zamperini qualified to compete in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where he was America's top finisher in the 5,000-meter run, finishing the final lap in 56 seconds and causing Adolf Hitler to request a personal meeting with him.

During World War II, Zamperini became a bombardier and served in the South Pacific. While on a reconnaissance mission, Zamperini's aircraft crashed into the Pacific Ocean. He and a surviving crewmate spent 47 days adrift on an inflatable raft before being captured by Japanese soldiers when they reached the Marshall Islands.

He was a POW for more than two years, during which time he was frequently beaten and tortured by his captors. Zamperini returned to Southern California to a hero's welcome.

Suffering from post traumatic disorder, Zamperini found solace in 1949 when he became a born-again Christian after attending a Los Angeles crusade led by evangelist Billy Graham. He eventually became an inspirational speaker pre.ching the power of forgiveness.

He practiced what he preached in 1950, when he went to Sugamo Prison in Tokyo -- where Japanese war criminals were being held -- and met with some of his torturers to offer them forgiveness, hugging them in the process. At age 81, Zamperini - a five-time Olympic torch-bearer - ran a leg in the torch relay for the Winter Olympics in Nagano. During his visit, he attempted to meet with his most brutal tormentor during the war, Mutsuhiro Watanabe, but Watanabe --who escaped prosecution as a war criminal -- refused to see him.

In 2005, Zamperini returned to Germany to visit the Berlin Olympic Stadium for the first time since he competed there in 1936. Zamperini has been inducted into the Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame. Torrance High School's home football, soccer and track facility is named after him.

"It's such an honor to be the Grand Marshal of the 126th Rose Bowl,'' said Zamperini "Growing up in Torrance, the parade route on Colorado Boulevard is one I have been familiar with my whole life. I look forward to sharing he experience with my family and all the fans of the Rose Parade who will be watching.''

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