* PARADE ORGANIZERS’ NOTE: We are very saddened to learn that Mike Rizzo has passed away. We were fortunate he was able to attend our “Meet the Grand Marshals” event in September, and are honored that his family will be making the trip to Phoenix to take his place in the 2018 Parade in his honor.

Mike Rizzo held his military memories close to his heart.  He remembered the men he served with and practices a lesson his grandfather taught him as a child. “If you don’t inject a little humor into each day, it’s a wasted day.”  When speaking with Rizzo about his time in the military, you could see the pain and sacrifice in his eyes.  And you could also see the humor that kept a sparkle in his eyes.

Corporal Rizzo was drafted in April 1943 in Camp Wheeler, Georgia. After basic training, he was shipped to England and France for 23 months. His time in France remains significant because he participated in the liberation of a few towns.  Despite his war efforts, he had a fond memory of visiting a monastery with almost 20 men. They entered in a line, with Rizzo in front as the Squad Leader. In the entryway to the monastery, there was a pear tree. Each man, starting with Rizzo, picked a pear on his way in. Rizzo chuckled as he reminisced about the bare tree after the squad went inside.

Another notable event in France remains to be the moment that Rizzo lived through an explosion. He was knocked out cold and the rest of the men thought he was dead.  When he woke up, everyone was gone.

Rizzo’s memories of his time in Germany ranged from being injured by shrapnel lodged in his legs during an encounter while on night patrol, to a fellow soldier sitting on the edge of his foxhole, brushing his teeth during a critical time. The latter recollection brought a smile to his face.

Rizzo’s grandfather played a large role in his life. A major lesson he learned from his grandfather’s time serving in the Italian army is to avoid volunteering for anything. “If the job was easy, they would have done it themselves,” Rizzo said. He felt the most challenging aspect of his military career was simply trying to stay alive. He was close to not coming back five times, and each of those moments remain vivid in his memory. Rizzo believed his training with the Browning Automatic Rifle while serving as a security guard in Germany kept him alive.

Rizzo earned the Purple Heart by “being at the right place at the right time.” He was also awarded the Bronze Star and other notable medals.  They are all proudly displayed in his living room, next to a portrait of him after a combat injury.

Mike Rizzo was a humble veteran who didn’t require much recognition for his time served and felt lucky to have made it out of service alive. “War is not like the movies. People suffer and die, while being dirty and hungry, without knowing what tomorrow brings,” he said. This is the message that he would like to share with the world. He was proud and happy to be one of the Phoenix Veterans Day Parade Grand Marshals, a position that allowed him to positively affect other veterans.

We hope you will join us at the 22nd Annual Phoenix Veterans Day Parade on Monday, November 12, 2017, to see all our Grand Marshals. This year’s parade theme is “OUT OF THE TRENCHES: A Century of Remembrance – WWI 1918.” The parade typically boasts more than 100 entries, and this year will have a special float with nearly 20 Vietnam Veterans riding on it. The parade will also feature patriotic floats, high school marching bands, JROTC marching units, color guards, Veterans Service Organizations, animals, novelty units and much, much more.

For more information on the parade and the parade route, click HERE.