It was a unique sequence of entries in the 2015 Tournament of Roses Parade on Jan. 1, 2015: University of Southern California’s mascot, Traveler 7 ridden by Tommy Trojan; Traveler 9, riderless to honor a fallen soldier; a US Army sergeant in dress uniform; the Grand Marshal’s car without a Grand Marshal; and the Torrance float filled with images and icons from Louis Zamperini’s life. Never before has the Rose Parade lost its Grand Marshal before the parade, and never before has a man been so honored in the pageant.
It was what is known as a “Rose Parade moment,” a special connection between an entry and the viewers. It was a solemn procession, but not sad. A great man was being remembered by 80 million people.
Louis Zamperini—“Louie” to almost everyone—was presented the previous May as the Grand Marshal for the 126th Rose Parade by then Pres. Richard Chinen. The 97-year-old track star, Olympian, Army Air Force bombardier, castaway, prisoner of war, evangelist, and favorite son succumbed to pneumonia a few weeks later. Just a week before, the movie Unbroken, based on the biography by Laura Hillenbrand, had premiered.
The City of Torrance float, “A Race Well Run,” won the Theme Trophy for Excellence In Presenting Parade Theme, “Inspiring Stories.” The float almost didn’t make it into the running; the Torrance Rose Float Association (TRFA) was low on funds. The theme of the float and design had been chosen and approved before Zamperini was announced as Grand Marshal, but despite the community’s love for Louie, raising money was tough going. A visit to the city council meeting in September by Chinen and Fiesta Parade Floats president Tim Estes brought unanimous support from the council and the float was a go.
The list with this article presents the details on the units that made up the Grand Marshal and Torrance entries, and the articles in the “suggested links” section will take readers to more stories about the float and Louis Zamperini. They are stories worth telling, inspiring stories of an individual and of a community.
The float was the 61st entry for Torrance. As TRFA Publicity Director Melissa De La Vara said, “I remember as a little girl watching the parade every January 1st. And now that I’m older it’s really neat to be part of the ‘behind the scenes’ process. With the float honoring Mr. Zamperini, someone from my hometown its even more special. Just so happens to be an added bonus that he was named the Grand Marshal as well. I’m sure my feelings are shared by m any residents of Torrance.”
For links to all articles about the 2015 Rose Parade winners, bookmark “A book with chapters: The 2015 Rose Parade in photos and words.” For the trophy winners, read “Rose Parade floats 2015: Who won in the 126th Tournament of Roses Parade.” Please post comments on Facebook at All Things Rose Parade.
Louis Zamperini: A Race Well Run
The Torrance Rose Parade float won the Theme Trophy for Excellence In Presenting Parade Theme in 2015. It presented floragraphs and icons from the life of Grand Marshal Louis Zamperini. The float observer, standing at right, wears the uniform of the WWII Army Air Force. The American flag, a model of the Berlin Olympic torch, and a victor’s wreath are at the front of the float. Zamperini’s military medals, track shoes. The floragraph at the lower left is of Zamperini Field, the airport in Torrance.
Eagle Scouts carry the banner announcing the 2015 Rose Parade Grand Marshal, Louis Zamperini, followed by Hector Aguilar as Tommy Trojan on Traveler 7. Beside him, Traveler 9 is riderless to honor a fallen soldier. An active duty US Army sergeant walks beside. Though Zamperini was bombardier in WWII, the air services at the time were part of the army rather than a separate branch.
Traveler 9 and Traveler 7
Traveler 7, a pure Spanish Andalusian gelding, has served as the USC mascot for 13 years. He is ridden by Hector Aguilar. In a military tradition, Traveler 9 has the honor position of caparison horse, riderless with the boots turned backward in the stirrups to indicate the warrior will never ride again. The horses display only small arrangements of roses in cardinal and gold, USC’s colors.
Zamperini family represents their father
Though Grand Marshal Louis Zamperini passed away on July 2, 2014 and was represented by his family in the 2015 Rose Parade, Pres. Richard Chinen affirmed, “Louis is our Grand Marshal…. Louie is the embodiment of ‘Inspiring Stories.’” Riding in the 1936 Packard Standard Eight that was a gift to Joseph Stalin are, left to right, daughter Cynthia Zamperini Garris, son Luke Zamperini, grandson Clay Zamperini, Luke’s wife Lisa Zamperini, Cynthia’s husband Mick Garris, and the driver.
Photos in a scrapbook
Floragraphs—depictions of real photos created in dry botanical materials—of Louis Zamperini in an album mounted at the back of the Torrance Rose Parade float show Louie in his USC cap when he was presented as Grand Marshal, Louie with Billy Graham after his life was turned around by a conversion at the Graham crusade in Los Angeles, and as a high school runner. The black and white floragraphs are created in black onion seed, gray poppy seed and white sweet rice blended to create nine separate tones. The color photographs are created in an array of materials including blue sinuata statice petals, crisp white sweet rice, red ilex berries and green parsley flakes.
One of USC’s greatest fans
Louis Zamperini was just a few classes short of a degree when he enlisted in World War II. He was Trojan for life, and frequently wore his USC ball cap. Riding on the Torrance Rose Parade float, his friends donned USC commemorative caps in his honor. On the camera side were Jim Standifer, Louie’s lifetime best friend; Wil Graham, grandson of evangelist Billy Graham; Daylen Kung, representing the Torrance High School track team; Jim Bardenett, grandson of Louie’s godmother, representing Olean, New York, where Louie was born. Daylen is wearing a black track uniform like the one Zamperini wore and track shoes autographed for him by Zamperini. On the off-camera side were Torrance residents Fran Oatridge, Dave Hamilton, Maureen Byrne and Monica Smith.
Grand Marshal’s ribbon
The Grand Marshal of the Rose Parade sports a large red satin ribbon like those worn by Louis Zamperini’s family. A replica of Zamperini’s ribbon graced the Torrance float, just in front of the victor’s laurel wreath. Red ilex berries create the brilliant color. Behind, the replica Art Deco Olympic torch is covered with silverleaf.
A hero’s medals
Louis Zamperini won a Purple Heart and Prisoner of War Medal, created on the Torrance float with gold clover seed, white sweet rice, silver lettuce seed, black onion seed, brown bent grass seed, purple sinuata statice and red ilex berries. Note the barbed wire wreathed around the eagle on the POW medallion. More than 10,000 yellow roses carpeted the deck of the float, along with carnations and gerbera.
Blasting out of the pages of the scrapbook is a silverleaf replica of a B-24 Liberator with spinning propellers like the one Zamperini served on as a bombardier in World War II. Details include the bombardier’s badge at the front, Flying Cross hanging by a floragraph of Zamperini in his Army Air Force uniform, and a pennant with his high school nickname, Torrance Tornado, in polished kidney beans and lettuce seeds. The album pages are created in natural rolled oats with detail edges in individual strands of raffia.
Louis Zamperini grew up in Torrance, Calif. and was much-loved by the community. He was also an inveterate scrapbooker, a habit which aided biographer Laura Hillenbrand. Stars of white coconut and bright yellow floral arrangements frame the book. Torrance High School’s football, soccer and track venue is named Zamperini Stadium and the Torrance airport was renamed Zamperini Field.