Away at war in Afghanistan last year, Army Spc. Daniel Pranzo missed the little things about a Fort Gordon Thanksgiving.
He missed watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with fellow soldiers, holding his then-2-year-old son, Jacob, in his arms, and being the official turkey taste-tester for his wife, Diana.
This year, all those simple holiday treasures return.
Today, 15 of his family’s friends – mostly from Pranzo’s unit, the 63rd Expeditionary Signal Battalion – will gather at his home on Fort Gordon for a daylong celebration that, in a way, is a lot like the first Thanksgiving, said his wife, who started the tradition in 2000 when she enlisted in the Navy.
“When you think about it, what makes this special is the Indians and Pilgrims were perfect strangers when they met, but they still got together for one huge feast,” she said.
Daniel and Diana Pranzo know what it means to be apart.
The couple, who were married in October 2007, have been deployed a combined seven times this decade, including twice during the holidays.
In 2008, Daniel spent Thanksgiving and Christmas aboard the USS John C. Stennis for a six-month deployment, seven years after he originally enlisted in the Navy as a jet engine mechanic.
After leaving the Navy in 2009, he joined the Army a year later as a cable systems installer and was back overseas for both holidays in 2012. That time, he was sent to Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan with 125 other soldiers to establish network operations for American troops for nine months during Operation Enduring Freedom.
He did not return home until March.
“It’s part of the job,” he said. “You have to fulfill your duty, and part of that is being apart from your family.”
Pranzo said he ate turkey, green beans, mashed potatoes and sweet potato pie with co-workers for Thanksgiving in an Army dining facility. Temperatures were near freezing during his deployment, and at times, he had to sleep through mortar attack alarms at the airfield.
At home, his wife and son spent Christmas in Arizona with his in-laws and continued the Thanksgiving tradition, and it was not the same. They missed each other greatly.
“I like having my daddy home to play with him,” said Jacob, who would often roam the family’s home on Fort Gordon searching for his deployed father.
Today, Jacob holds his father’s hand or sits in his lap any chance he gets.
“I am happy and relieved to be home,” Pranzo said.
To mark her husband’s Thanksgiving homecoming, Diana said she plans to add a new touch to her stuffed turkey, a wrap of maple bacon.
Guests will start arriving around noon to eat sandwiches and watch the parade as Diana cooks. Some will stay to help, but most will leave and return for supper, which will include each guest’s favorite holiday dish.
Daniel Pranzo will give the turkey the official seal of approval.
“He is my taste-tester,” Diana said. “I check with him to make sure it is good enough for human consumption.”
Daniel said he has the experience to do the job.
“Being on a Navy carrier, sailors are often faced with what is called ‘mystery meat’ and the challenge of seeing whether we live through it,” he said.
Diana Pranzo said she has carried on her holiday tradition for 13 years to honor the soldiers and sailors who want to be with their families for the holidays but can’t.
“If I can bring some kind of joy to someone’s holiday,” she said, “it’s worth it.”