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Billy Graham's Grandson Will to Represent Him in Rose Parade Honoring Louis Zamperini

( [email protected] ) Dec 31, 2014 06:06 PM EST

Will Graham
Will Graham, who will represent his grandfather as he honors Louis Zamperini in the Rose Parade, is the oldest son of Samaritan's Purse CEO Franklin Graham. (Photo: BGEA)

Will Graham, the grandson of renowned evangelist Billy Graham, will represent his grandfather in the 126th annual Rose Parade on New Years Day, which will pay tribute to WWII hero and devout Christian Louis Zamperini.

Zamperini's story, "Unbroken," has been told in a best-selling book and a big-screen film released on Christmas Day. It has also been the subject of a documentary-style film released by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, titled "Louis Zamperini: Captured by Grace."

Zamperini, who died of pneumonia at age 97 on July 2, survived a number of horrendous ordeals throughout his life, including surviving in a raft in the Pacific Ocean for 47 days after a near-fatal plane crash. He also endured brutal torture at the hands of the Japanese navy after being sent to a POW camp.

It was after reluctantly attending a crusade led by evangelist Rev. Billy Graham in 1949 that Zamperini became a devout Christian, and was able to overcome his PTSD and forgive his captors.

"I started to leave the tent meeting, and I felt [awfully] guilty about my life," Zamperini said of his experience at the 1949 Graham Crusade held in a constructed tent on the corner of Washington and Hill streets in Los Angeles. "Yes, I had a lot of great times, a lot of great experience, a lot of escape from death, but I still didn't like my life after the war. I came home alive. God kept His promise. I didn't keep mine, and so I went forward and accepted Christ."

Writes Will Graham, "Louis did go to hear my grandfather and ultimately remembered the promise he'd made to God when he was adrift in the ocean, when he promised to serve Him if allowed to survive. Louis walked forward, committed his life to Christ, and allowed Him to mend the broken pieces of his life."

On  Thursday, a Rose Parade float will display highlights of Zamperini's life, including giant-scale historical photos overlayed with pieces of flowers and seeds.With the parade's theme of "Inspiring Stories," a tribute to Zamperini, who grew up in Torrance, "seemed the natural way to go," said the float's organizers. Despite his passing, this year's Tournament of Roses is also dedicated to honoring Zamperini as Grand Marshal of the parade. 

Because of his significant role in Zamperini's life, Billy Graham, now 97, will be a significant part of this year's float as well, through the representation of his grandson.

"I never personally met Mr. Zamperini," write Will. "I wish I had, but he passed away earlier this year. He was to be the Grand Marshal of the Rose Parade in Pasadena on New Year's Day and even though he's gone home to be with Jesus, the parade is still honoring his life and legacy. I'm very humbled to represent my grandfather and his role in Louis' life on the City of Torrance float, which is dedicated to their hometown hero."

The Rose Parade will air on ABC, NBC and several cable channels at 11 a.m. ET New Year's Day.