Big Bird was an airman.
Well, at least Caroll Spinney was.
So it was fitting that the the 82-year-old voice actor and puppeteer who for decades played Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on “Sesame Street” on Friday honored a group of service members from Travis Air Force Base at a comic book convention in downtown Sacramento.
“I’m so proud to be part of the Air Force team,” Spinney said, his normal speaking voice not all that different from the flute-y tones of his yellow “Sesame Street” character.
The service members Spinney honored included Spencer Stone, the Sacramento man who helped thwart a terrorist attack aboard a French passenger train in August.
“It’s always nice to share a stage with my brothers and sisters in arms who will give their life for me and I’ll do the same for them,” Stone said. “So it’s always great to be honored with a group like this.”
Spinney joined five other entertainers for the inaugural “Hometown Heroes” event to kick off Wizard World Comic Con at the Sacramento Convention Center.
It’s always nice to share a stage with my brothers and sisters in arms who will give their life for me and I’ll do the same for them.
The other actors included Michael Cudlitz, known for playing Abraham Ford on “The Walking Dead”; Dean Cain, who played Superman in “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman”; Billy Boyd, who played Pippin in the “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy; and The Big Show, a 7-foot-tall professional wrestler.
Scott Wilson, who played Hershel Greene in “The Walking Dead,” made an unexpected appearance to thank the service members, who appeared in full uniform. Each honoree was presented with a specially engraved Captain America shield and an autographed poster.
The service members in their Air Force uniforms stood in stark contrast to the dozens of fans dressed as Deadpool, Batman, Harley Quinn and Captain America at the annual conference, which expects to bring in 7,500 to 10,000 people through Sunday.
Wizard World’s CEO John Maatta said the “Hometown Heroes” celebration is a nice way to bring a sense of what actual heroism means to people who might only watch fictionalized versions of it.
“That was the genesis of it – to create the nexus between the entertainment heroes we bring and the real life heroes that exist in the towns we go to in what seems to be an exceptionally dangerous time in the world,” Maatta said.
Several of the service members brought their families. Maj. Virgil Steele’s wife, Alicia, and their children Kian, 7, and Gaige, 3, sat in the front row.
“Hey, man, how are you?” The Big Show said, leaning his huge frame down a bit to smile at Kian, who sat in an electric wheelchair. Afterward, Alicia said Gaige, who was wearing a Captain America costume, was eying his daddy’s cool new shield.
“He’s pretty excited about that shield,” she said.