Former Olympian and prisoner of war Louis Zamperini named Grand Marshal
By Andre Coleman. 05/13/2014
The Tournament of Roses Association has selected former Olympian and World War II prisoner of war Louis Zamperini to serve as the grand marshal of the 2015 Rose Parade and Rose Bowl Football Game.
The theme of this year’s parade is “Inspiring Stories,” and perhaps no one better fits that theme than Zamperini.
A track star at Torrance High School, Zamperini scored the fastest time of any American in the 5000-meter race in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.
However, he finished eighth overall in the event. Nonetheless, his time impressed Adolf Hitler, who requested a personal meeting with the athlete. Although the two men shook hands at the Olympics, five years later Zamperini enlisted in the Air Force to fight against Hitler and his Imperial Japanese allies.
In April 1942, Zamperini was shot down over the Pacific, 850 miles west of Oahu. After 47 days adrift at sea, and surviving on small fish and rain water, Zamperini and fellow airman Phil Phillips finally reached the Marshall Islands where they were immediately captured by the Japanese Navy. He remained a prisoner until the end of the war, enduring regular beatings at the hands of angry guards.
He received a hero’s welcome when he returned home after the war. On his 81st birthday in 1998, Zamperini ran a leg in the Olympic Torch relay for the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. While there, he attempted to meet with Mutushiro Watanabe, one of the guards who tormented him while a prisoner, but Watanabe refused to meet with him.
Zamperini’s life will soon be the subject of a film titled “Unbroken,” directed by Angelina Jolie.
“It is such an honor to be the grand marshal of the 126th Rose Parade,” said 97-year-old Zamperini in a prepared statement. “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 the experience with my family and all the fans of the Rose Parade who will be watching.”