Thousands gathered at a public memorial for Olympian and war hero Louis Zamperini Thursday night, crowding the stadium that bears his name.
Zamperini, 97, died of pneumonia July 2. He was a member of the 1936 U.S. Olympic track and field team who survived repeated torture for two years as a Japanese prisoner of war during World War II.
A Torrance High School graduate, Zamperini was remembered for his indomitable spirit.
“Go out and represent Louis the best way you can. Be loving. Be kind. Be forgiving,” one mourner told the crowd. “We loved him so much. I know he is here.”
A private funeral was held last month for family. The service at the school's stadium named for Zamperini included flyovers of military aircraft and a symbolic lap around by the track run by
members of the school's track team..
“My grandfather has been a lot of things to a lot of people,” Zamperini's grandson Clay Zamperini said. “He was an example of elite athleticism and a reminder that with hard work and dedication, we're all capable of anything.”
In May, Zamperini was selected to be grand marshal of the 2015 Rose Parade -- themed "Inspiring Stories" -- on New Year's Day in Pasadena, California. The former University of Southern California track star wore a Trojans cap as he talked about the book and film based on his inspirational story and his new friend, actress and director Angelina Jolie.
"After the book was finished, all of my college buddies were dead, all of my war buddies were dead -- it's sad to realize you've lost all of your friends," said Zamperini. "But I think I made up for it. I made a new friend -- Angelina Jolie. The gal really loves me. She hugs me and kisses me, so I can't complain."
Jolie directed a film based on a book about Zamperini’s life. “Unbroken” will be released in December.
Zamperini was selected earlier this year to be the Grand Marshal for the 2015 Rose Parade in Pasadena.
After his death,Tournament of Roses officials released a statement saying he will be honored at the event.
"Louis Zamperini was and will continue to be the embodiment of the 2015 Tournament of Roses theme 'Inspiring Stories,'" Tournament of Roses President Richard L. Chinen said in a statement. "As we mourn the passing of a member of the Tournament of Roses family, one who was moved to be asked to serve as Grand Marshal, we are honored to shine the light on one who truly lived a life of unconditional love, courageous perseverance and patient endurance. He shared with us that his faith in God was his inspiration to be content in plenty and in want. At this time, we pray that Louis' family and friends may find strength knowing that that the story of Louis' journey will inspire the world."
City News Service contributed to this report.