War Hero, Olympian Louis Zamperini Named Rose Parade Grand Marshal

Louis Zamperini's life story is subject of a best-selling book and an upcoming film directed by Angelina Jolie

World War II hero and former Olympian Louis Zamperini will serve as the Grand Marshal for the 126th Rose Parade.

The announcement Friday morning at Tournament House in Pasadena came months before the scheduled release of a film about his life called "Unbroken," directed by Angelina Jolie. The film is an adaptation of Laura Hillenbrand's book about Zamperini's world-class accomplishments as a distance runner and experiences as a prisoner of war during World War II.

"All of my colleague buddies are dead. All of my war buddies are dead," Zamperini, wearing a USC Trojans cap, said Friday at Tournament House. "It's sad to realize that all your friends are dead.

"But I think I made up for it. I made a new friend -- Angelina Jolie. She hugs me and kisses me, so I can't complain."

Zameprini, 97, will ride in the New Year's Day parade -- the theme for which is "Inspiring Stories" -- and participate in other Rose Bowl events.

"He is the very definition of an inspiring story," said Richard Chinen, president of the Pasadena Tournament of Roses

Born in Odeon, New York, the son of Italian immigrants moved to Torrance as a child. He attended Torrance High School and set an interscholastic record for the mile at 4:21 during a state championship preliminary meet.

He went on to success on the track at the University of Southern California before earning a place on the 1936 U.S. Olympics team. He was the top American finisher in the 5,000-meter race.

Zamperini then retired from competition to join the U.S. Air Corps. He was deployed to the South Pacific during World War II and, after his aircraft crashed in the Pacfic Ocean during a reconnaisance run, survived on a life raft for nearly 50 days in Japanese-controlled waters.

He was captured by Japanese forces and survived a series of prison camps. He returned to Southern California after the war and later carried the Olympic Winter Games torch in Nagano, Japan.

Dodgers baseball announcer Vin Scully served as the 2014 Rose Parade Grand Marshal. Previous Grand Marshals include Dr. Jane Goodall (2013), Paula Deen (2011), Capt. Chesley B. Sullenberger III (2010), Tom Brokaw (2001), Kermit the Frog (1996), Lee Iacocca (1985), Frank Sinatra (1980) and John Wayne (1973).

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