World War II prisoner of war and Olympian Louis Zamperini was named the grand marshal for the 2015 Tournament of Roses Parade on Friday, a selection made by Tournament of Roses President Rich Chinen.
Zamperini‘s life is the subject of the best-selling book “Unbroken,” written by Laura Hillenbrand and is currently being made into a film under the direction of Angelina Jolie.
Zamperini, who competed in the 5,000-meter distance event in the Olympics in Berlin in 1936, said he’s seen how the book has inspired many, especially young people, which surprises him.
“I can’t understand how young kids have read the book and it changed their lives. Kids that were getting into trouble like I was,” he said, adding that the book has also been therapeutic for patients receiving care in hospitals.
“The book has had a tremendous emotional effect upon a lot of people — I’m talking about kids, 9 and 10 years old and up.”
Zamperini said Jolie “is really a dedicated girl [who] read the book through twice without stopping” before deciding to direct the film.
“We met at my house… she’s a very affectionate girl. I can’t complain too much except that I’m 97. She started telling me, ‘Oh, I love you, Louie.’ The next day she said, ‘I love you twice as much,’” he said. “And then she started hugging me, kissing me, and I just stood there like a dummy.”
The 126th Rose Parade, to be held on New Year’s Day, will have the theme “Inspiring Stories,” which Chinen said celebrates those who persevere with courage and endure with patience.
Chinen said Zamperini’s perseverance through the torture by the Japanese Navy that held him prisoner “brought this hero home to Southern California.”
Zamperini’s ability to forgive is also inspiring.
“After becoming a born-again Christian, he went on a mission most of us wouldn’t have it in us to do. He went out to seek the guards who tortured him and to forgive every single one of them,” Chinen said. “He is the very definition of an inspiring story.”
The film on Zamperini’s life is planned to be released in theaters on Christmas Day, Chinen said.
Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.