Louis Zamperini: A Life Full of “Inspiring Stories”

Aligning perfectly with the 2015 theme, “Inspiring Stories,” this year’s grand marshal comes as no surprise – Louis Zamperini. An Olympic runner turned World War II Airman and prisoner of war, Zamperini is a living inspiration having overcome multiple hardships, and leading a quest for forgiveness through his career as an inspirational speaker.

As Tournament of Roses® President Richard L. Chinen noted in his speech this morning, “There is no one more qualified to serve as grand marshal with the 2015 theme ‘Inspiring Stories’ than Louis Zamperini. His life story illustrates the strength of human spirit in so many ways.”

At the young age of 19, Louis ran the 5,000-meter race for the 1936 Olympic team in Berlin, but that was just the start of his inspirational journey. When World War II began, he retired from running to serve his country. Following a plane crash during a routine reconnaissance run, Zamperini and a fellow crewmember survived an astounding 47 days adrift at sea before being captured as prisoners of war by the Japanese navy.

Following his two years of torture as a prisoner of war, Louis Zamperini began his quest for forgiveness. He became a missionary in Japan and, in a true act of compassion and humility, he preached forgiveness to the very guards who tortured him during the war. In 1998, he was asked to carry the Olympic torch at the Winter Games in Nagano, Japan – close to where he was held captive years before.

2015 Grand Marshal Louis Zamperini

2015 Grand Marshal Louis Zamperini. Photo credit: Brad Graverson, Los Angeles News Group

Despite all the hardships in Zamperini’s life, the twinkle in his eyes is undeniable. His unwavering optimism and his ability to elevate the human spirit are what define him best.

Zamperini’s story is the focus of two books: an autobiography entitled “Devil at My Heels” and “Unbroken”, a biography by Laura Hillenbrand – soon to be a motion picture directed by Angelina Jolie and released December 2014.

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