The Best Moment I Never Saw: The Rose Parade moment everyone’s talking about

January 1, 9:15. I’m sitting in the grandstands on Orange Grove Blvd enjoying my first trip to the Rose Parade in Pasadena. Earlier, in the chill dark morning mist, I and a handful of other lucky press saw the Natural Balance Canines With Courage float lined up down the road, and I got to meet the delightful and utterly gracious Dick Van Patten while he warmed up inside a roadside trailer.

When the Canines with Courage float, a full scale replica of the new Military Working Dogs National Monument, passed us in the stands, the crowd around me surged to their feet to cheer on the canine handlers riding and walking alongside the float. More on these amazing soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines later. I had met many of them the night before, but a few, such as the soldier perched up front, I had not met. I thought nothing of it at the time.

Gunnery Sergeant Christopher Willingham with Lucca, memorial creator and Army veteran John Burnam, and “mystery soldier.”

We were sitting about 3 blocks ahead of the main media area. About 5 minutes after the float passed, the parade paused and we heard a ruckus. We craned our necks to see what was going on, wondering if something had caught fire or stalled or something. A few minutes later, Twitter blew up.

“WOW Natural Balance brought to tears!” “Most amazing float ever!” “I can’t believe what I just saw” etc.

And we were confused, because while it was indeed a beautiful float, the reaction seemed a tad bit over-stated. Then, of course, we figured it out: the secret a handful of top level military and Natural Balance execs had kept under wraps for seven months.

In the front row, Miriam Pazz and her son Eric were enjoying the show, flown in from Germany as a special guest of the company. As the float went by, she did a double take. “I recognized him immediately,” she said- him being her husband Army Sergeant First Class Eric Pazz, deployed to Afghanistan the past seven months. It was the best kept secret of the day, a joint effort of the military and Natural Balance to bring a holiday surprise to a well deserving family.

Pazz, nominated for the honor by his fellow soldiers, was selected based on factors such as his distinguished service and his number of deployments. He never imagined actually being chosen. For the past month, he’s kept it a secret from his wife and son, who thought they were going on vacation- without Dad. As the float pulled in front of the stands with cameras from around the world trained on them, well, you know the rest of the story.

I got to meet Eric and Miriam after the parade, when they graciously postponed a private family reunion to talk to press and well-wishers in the post parade area. As with all military members I’ve had the pleasure to meet, they were humble, so generous with their time with the curious public, and so complimentary to everyone they have met along the way. The Pazz family is a credit to the US military- and I’m so honored to have a chance to meet them and witness such an exceptional moment.

Grace Under Pressure: From a quiet early morning on a parade route to the national spotlight, the Pazz family handled the attention with grace and charm

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  • Elliott Garber

    I’m so jealous that you got to be part of this! Thanks for sharing the experience with all of us from far away. I’m an Army veterinarian working overseas and get to work with these amazing handlers and their dogs every day. They are definitely an inspiration!

    • Thank you for your service!

  • Sue W

    Love <3!

  • Tamara

    I was sobbing through the whole thing. It was truly a beautiful moment 🙂 I’m so glad you got to be there for the parade!

  • Karen B.

    I got choked up watching the parade and again while reading this. What an incredible moment. And how cute was his son, sitting on the float and waving to everyone?