Past National Historian James T. Higuera, a member Post 270 in Downey, Calif., saw The American Legion’s Tournament of Roses Parade float when it was nothing more than a chassis and engine.

But Higuera was one of hundreds of volunteers – many American Legion Family members and youth program participants – who spent more than three days decorating the float in the Phoenix Decorating Company warehouse in Irwindale, Calif. And on Dec. 31, during parade float judging, Higuera and others saw what is now the finished product.

“It’s coming alive,” Higuera said, as volunteers put finishing touches on the float prior to judging. “It’s awesome. You look at this thing and you say ‘holy mackerel.’ There’s got to be a million flowers on it. It’s really amazing. It’s going to be great.”

Higuera drove 70 miles round trip each day since Dec. 28 to take part in the decorating. It was worth it. “There are literally millions of people that are going to be watching (the parade),” he said. “It’s going to promote our organization and the American Legion Family. It’s going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Also impressed with the final product was Walter “Joe” Marm, one of four Medal of Honor recipients riding on the float. “It’s awesome,” said Marm, a lifetime member of American Legion Post 639 in Claysville, Pa. “A lot of hard work and preparation went into the building of the float, and I appreciate the volunteers that put it together. It’s a beautiful float.”

The float was judged with all of its riders in their positions, along with music playing and pyrotechnics going off from the float. One of the Riders, Samsung American Legion Scholarship recipient and current UCLA student Jack Gardner, had seen photos of the float progressing through the decoration process before he arrived in California.

“But the first time I saw it in person I really enjoyed it. It looks magnificent,” said Gardner, a member of Sons of The American Legion Squadron 338 in Rohnert Park, Calif., and the son and grandson of military veterans. “I’m proud to be on the float because I’m helping to convey the message of trying to educate the American people on what The American Legion has done for veterans, as well as the entire nation.”

Also riding the float is American Legion Auxiliary 2018 Girls Nation President Hoda Abdalla, who arrived in California from South Carolina on Dec. 30. To her, the float looked “incredible.” Taking the time to come west for the parade was an easy decision.

“My experience gained from the American Legion Auxiliary has really been like life-changing,” Abdalla said. “So when I heard about the opportunity to come celebrate the centennial of The American Legion, I just couldn’t say no.”

American Legion Auxiliary National Vice President Nicole Clapp saw the float for the first time at the judging. “It is incredible,” she said. “Pictures don’t do it justice, and I think … it’s going to be tremendous going down the parade route, and it should represent The American Legion, The American Legion Auxiliary and the SAL very proudly.”

Clapp said making the float Legion Family-centric was the right decision. “We know veterans and their families are the reason (the Legion Family was) created,” she said. “This is a way to get awareness out about that we’re there to help. And they can see that it’s from youth, Americanism, national security and the like. And that will help get our message out and hopefully provide the services that we’re there to provide.”

For Marm, being a part of The American Legion float “is a significant honor to be chosen as one of the Vietnam Medal of Honor recipients. It’s a privilege and an honor to be representing all the soldiers from the Vietnam War, and all the servicemen and women who served in a very tough conflict.”

To watch The American Legion float, tune into NBC, ABC, Hallmark Channel, RFD TV and Univision beginning at 8 a.m. PT (11 a.m. ET) on Jan 1. The American Legion is the fifth unit in the parade, immediately following the U.S. Marine Corps West Coast Composite Band.