PASADENA, Calif. >> Ninety-seven-year-old World War II hero and former Olympian Louis Zamperini was named grand marshal of the 2015 Rose Parade on Friday.
The Tournament of Roses announced the selection in a ceremony leading up to the 126th edition of the annual floral spectacle, which next New Year’s Day will feature the theme “Inspiring Stories.”
Zamperini is the subject of Laura Hillenbrand’s best-selling book “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption,” which is being made into a movie directed by Angelina Jolie and is scheduled for a December release.
A high school and University of Southern California track star, Zamperini competed in the 5,000-meter run at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. He finished eighth but caught attention by running the final lap in 56 seconds.
In World War II, he was a bombardier on a U.S. Army Air Forces bomber that crashed in the Pacific Ocean during a reconnaissance mission. He and the only other survivor among the crew survived 47 days adrift on a raft in shark-infested waters before being captured by Japanese forces. He spent more than two years as a prisoner of war, surviving torture.
Zamperini, wearing a USC cap, handed off his cane before slowly walking to the dais after his introduction.
“When the book was written the writer wanted 15 of my college buddies to interview. That scared me,” he said. “But she interviewed 15 of ’em and then she wanted to interview 16 of my war buddies that were in prison with me.
“And now after the book was finished all of my college buddies are dead, all of my war buddies are dead. It’s sad to realize that you’ve lost all your friends. But I think I made up for it. I made a new friend — Angelina Jolie. And the gal really loves me, she hugs me and kisses me, so I can’t complain.”