Smith: The hero who'll miss the parade

  • PC: Michael Ottolini, 45, of Sebastopol, a member of the 579th Engineer Battalion was killed Wednesday in a roadside explosion in Iraq.
    11/12/2004: A1: Sgt. 1st Class Michael Ottolini leaves Santa Rosa in March.
    11/17/2004: B1: Michael Ottolini
    12/1/2004: A1: Michael Ottolini
    12/31/2004: B6: Mike Ottolini
    1/2/2005: B1: Michael Ottolini: Sergeant 1st class serving in Iraq. Died in November at age 45.
    10/26/2005: A1: Sgt. 1st Class Michael Ottolini

If you wave to grand marshal Paul Hoffman at the Rose Parade on Saturday, imagine that a buddy of his sits right there beside him.

Hoffman is a 1978 Sonoma Valley High alum, an injured Iraq War veteran and one of several "Heroes and Helpers" who'll be honored at the 120th annual parade and festival in downtown Santa Rosa.

Late in 2004, Hoffman, who'd served earlier as a Marine, was in Iraq with Petaluma's 579th National Guard Engineer Battalion. As a small convoy prepared to head out from a base, he expected to drive the lead Humvee.

But there was an assignment switch, and fellow Sonoma County soldier Michael Ottolini, who was set to ship out the next day for hernia surgery, volunteered to drive the first vehicle.

"I'm going to be going home soon, anyway," the Petaluman said.

Ottolini died when the forward Humvee set off a roadside bomb. He's often on the mind of Hoffman, who later suffered serious injuries of his own.

At the Rose Parade on Saturday, Hoffman, a retired staff sergeant, will be one of six grand marshals honored for their service to others. Selfless volunteers and champions of worthy causes will be scattered throughout the procession.

"It's an honor be asked," said wounded vet Hoffman, "and a little scary.

"It'll be the first time in a while that I've put on my dress uniform."

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