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Louis Zamperini to be 2015 Rose Parade grand marshal

The longtime Trojan, a Southern Californian, knows the New Year's Day tradition well

Aliciaby Alicia Di Rado
Louis Zamperini at home
Louis Zamperini graduated from USC Dornsife in 1940. (Photo/Jeff Berting)

Trojan Olympian and World War II prisoner of war Louis Zamperini will serve as grand marshal for the 2015 Tournament of Roses.

The 97-year-old Zamperini, whose life is the basis for the upcoming film Unbroken, was cited by Tournament of Roses organizers for his courage and resilience. The Jan. 1, 2015 parade, the 126th annual staging of the event, is themed “Inspiring Stories.”

“Louis Zamperini’s life story illustrates the strength of human spirit in many ways,” said Tournament of Roses President Richard Chinen. “From becoming a young sports hero in Southern California to surviving for 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.”

Zamperini called his selection as grand marshal an honor.

Louis now lives as an enduring symbol of perseverance, heroism and forgiveness.

Richard Chinen

“Growing up in Torrance, the parade route on Colorado Boulevard is one I have been familiar with my whole life,” Zamperini said. “I look forward to sharing the experience with my family and all the fans of the Rose Parade who will be watching.”

During his USC days, Zamperini made news as a running phenom who held the California state high school title in the mile. At age 19, he became the U.S.’s youngest Olympic qualifier in the 5000 meters. He’d go on to finish eighth in the 1936 Berlin games.

But Zamperini is best known for his story of survival as an airman during World War II. He and his B-24 crew crashed into the Pacific in 1943, and he and another survivor drifted in a life raft for 47 days until they were captured by the Japanese military. They were held captive and tortured until the war ended in 1945.

After being liberated from a prisoner-of-war camp, he eventually returned to California and was given medals for his bravery, including the Purple Heart. But the war took its toll. He battled post-traumatic stress, depression and alcoholism. He eventually turned his life around and became a public speaker, frequently discussing the topics of motivation and reconciliation.

Zamperini has maintained strong ties to his USC community. Speaking at an event at Bovard Auditorium in 2013, he declared himself “a Trojan through and through.”

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