The 126th Rose Bowl Game and Rose Parade kicked off Thursday in Pasadena, CA with a festive explosion of roses, colors, and music. After declaring the this year’s parade theme “inspiring stories,” it’s officials couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate Grand Marshall. In May they announced that the honor would go to Louis Zamperini, who was represented posthumously due to his passing last July at the age of 97. Zamperini was an Olympic track star and World War II hero, whose story was celebrated in the best-selling biography Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, as well as by Angelina Jolie in the recently released film by the same name.

Mr. Zamperini was honored by a riderless horse as well as several members of his family, who also appeared in the parade line-up. Zamperini’s family members were followed by a float entitled “Louis Zamperini – A Life Well Run.” Billy Graham’s grandson, Will, joined others aboard the float in order to commemorate a life changing moment which Zamperini experienced at one of his late grandfather’s crusades.

Other famous Grand Marshalls throughout the history of the Rose Parade have included Walt Disney, Shirley Temple Black, Buzz Aldrin, Jackie Robinson, and even Mickey Mouse in 2005.

This year’s parade was said to be one of the chilliest in history, with morning temperatures slightly below freezing. Despite the cold weather, the parade day turned out to be a gorgeous one and began drawing spectators, eager to claim spots along the parade route, early this morning. The crowd, of course, also included enthusiastic riders who manned the parade’s 39 floats, 20 different marching bands, and 18 equestrian units. Some of the groups featured in the parade came from as far as Denmark, Japan, and Mexico to participate.

Other celebrities who participated in the parade included “Bachelor” host Chris Harrison, actor Jack Black, former Gov. George Deukmejian, and famed basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian. Princess Cruises also offered a fun twist by reuniting the cast of “The Love Boat” aboard their float. Cast members present included Gavin MacLeod, Fred Grandy, Ted Lange, Bernie Kopell, Lauren Tewes and Jill Whelan.