Tinsel Town lit up Dec. 1 during the 82nd Hollywood Christmas Parade saluting DAV. Larger-than-life balloons, celebrities and plenty of holiday cheer filled Los Angeles’ famous streets at this time-honored tradition.
The second man to set foot on the moon, retired Air Force aviator Buzz Aldrin, served as the grand marshal for this year’s parade and praised fellow veterans for their unwavering commitment to service. “CHiPs” actor Erik “Ponch” Estrada and television travel expert Laura McKenzie hosted the event, which aired frequently in December on the Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movie Channel, American Forces Network and other syndicated networks across the country, reaching millions of viewers.
One of the balloons was an impressive American flag, secured by DAV volunteers and accompanied by Department of California Commander Richard Valdez and Adjutant Daniel Contreras and National Adjutant Marc Burgess. They had to quickly make their way over to the start of the two-mile parade route after mingling on the red carpet with celebrities such as American Idol contestants Ace Young and Diana DeGarmo, actresses Judi Evans and Melissa Joan Hart and beloved “Leave it to Beaver” star Jerry Mathers. In between big smiles for dozens of photographers, DAV representatives including National Commander Joe Johnston, National Adjutant Marc Burgess, Second Junior Vice Commander David Riley and Board of Directors Chairman Larry Polzin, accepted an award of appreciation from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
The parade also boasted special guest hosts, including talk show personality, Marine Corps and Navy veteran Montel Williams. Williams conducted candid interviews with several DAV leaders, including Johnston, who took the opportunity to share DAV’s message of hope and service.
“Our nation’s heroes stood up for us, so it is only appropriate to honor them this holiday season,” said Johnston. “The Hollywood Christmas Parade showcases the many ways DAV gives back to veterans and how people can get involved and make a difference.”
Formerly known as Clark Kent on television, guest co-host Dean Cain insisted veterans were the true superheroes. “DAV supports disabled American veterans in their efforts to lead high quality lives,” said Cain. “Now it’s safe to say that our country would not be the same without their sacrifice.”
The highlight for several local DAV members in attendance was talking to some of the Marines who were representing Toys for Tots, also honored at this year’s event, and thanking them for their service.
Despite all the glitz, glamour and celebrity of Hollywood, it was a real “Superman” who stole the show. Following close behind vans from DAV’s Transportation Network, a smiling, young man walked with the super hero balloon. But it wasn’t Dean Cain or Clark Kent. It was Army veteran Jarod Behee, a life member and past National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic DAV Freedom Award recipient.
In 2005, Behee, then a 27-year-old staff sergeant, was serving his second deployment in Iraq—a tour he had volunteered for— when he was shot in the head by a sniper. Behee was not expected to live, let alone relearn to walk and talk, but “Superman,” as friends called him before the day that changed his life, lives up to his namesake daily, defying expectations set by doctors day after day.
“Heroes like Jarod sacrifice in our defense,” said Burgess. “We must ensure that the brave men and women who served their country are not facing the road to recovery alone.”
It is appropriate that Behee, adorned with the red cape walked—a task once thought to be impossible—with the Superman balloon. Cheers along the parade route erupted as the crowd heard Behee’s story. Band Daughtry appropriately played “Waiting for Superman” and dedicated the song to DAV.
The audience clamored to see the stars at the Hollywood Christmas Parade, and Behee and all the other veterans in attendance gave them just that.