Veterans Day High School Essay Competition Now Open through Sept. 13

Honoring America’s Veterans (HAV) is inviting all Arizona High School students to share their stories of inspiration, hope, and gratitude for veterans by entering the annual Essay Competition. HAV awards cash prizes to the top four entries and their teachers.

This year’s theme is The USA, A Beacon of Liberty.  Essay judging will focus on the theme, creative writing, grammar, originality, and content.

“This year’s theme is especially poignant. In the challenging times we’re living in, and we can all use a beacon of light to help us see the way forward.  We believe that beacon will come from the next generation of young men and women who are starting their journeys”, said HAV President Brian Ishmael.

The competition is open to students in grades 9-12 in Arizona, including those who are homeschooled or attend online schools. Essays must be between 300 and 500 words long and include the student’s name, age, and grade, a teacher or parent’s name (if homeschooled), email and phone number, school name, address, and phone number. Entries must be submitted online.

The HAV Phoenix Veterans Day Event Essay Team will review all entries and choose the winners.   In addition to cash prizes, the top four entries will receive recognition during the 2020 Phoenix Veterans Day Online Event, and HAV will post the winning essays online.  Additionally, the teacher listed on the winning student’s entry will receive a cash reward to use for his or her classroom.

“Being an essay winner was such an honor,” says Koriana Cannon, a contest winner from 2016. “Meeting the veterans and being part of the parade is an experience I will never forget. It made me even more thankful for all the people who have risked and lost their lives for America. You are my heroes.”

Every year I look forward to the opportunity to read the winning essays because they leave me inspired, awed, and hopeful for our future.  If you know a high school student, please encourage them to submit an entry online now through Sept. 13, 2020, at https://www.honoringamericasveterans.org/essay-competition/.


“Honor Our Heroes” Nominations now open for Phoenix Veterans Day Event

Phoenix, AZ – Pride. Patriotism. Service. These are characteristics Honoring America’s Veterans (HAV) seeks in candidates for the 2020 “Honor Our Heroes” nominees.  Nominations are open now through August 31.

The Phoenix Veterans Day Parade is typically a large-scale special event with thousands of participants and spectators.  Due to COVID-19 and to embrace public safety guidelines, this year’s event will move from in-person to online. Thus, these nominees will take the place of the Parade’s traditional Grand Marshals.

Organizers say the spirit of Honoring America’s Veterans will continue.

“During this challenging time, it is important for us to keep the focus on honor, respect, and gratitude for nation’s veterans on Veterans Day,” said Paula Pedene, Honoring America’s Veteran’s new executive director. “Highlighting them, and those who support them in our community, will remain an integral part of our efforts whether they be online or another forum,” she added.

The 2020 “Honor our Heroes” nominee competition selects recipients from each era of service who then represent their comrades.  Eras include:

  • World War II − 1941 to 1945
  • The Korean War − 1950 to 1953
  • The Vietnam War − 1958 to 1975
  • Cold War − 1945 to 1991
  • Desert Storm − 1990 to 1991
  • Operation Enduring Freedom − 2001 to ongoing
  • Operation Iraqi Freedom − 2003 to 2011

Nomination guidelines can be found online at honoringamericasveterans.org


About Honoring America’s Veterans

Since 2011, Honoring America’s Veterans (HAV), a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization strives to help Arizona’s veterans heal and reintegrate back to society through honor and recognition events. These events include the Phoenix Veterans Day Parade, the Honoring Our Heroes Veterans Grand Marshals competition, and the Parade’s High School Essay program. To learn more visit: honoringamericasveterans.org



Honoring America’ Veterans is announcing that after thoughtful consideration of the restrictions and guidelines in place because of COVID-19, we are unable to host the Phoenix Veterans Day Parade in 2020.

“The health and well-being of our nation’s veterans, our parade participants, and guests, as well as that of our volunteers, is our number one priority,” said Brian Ishmael, President of Honoring America’s Veterans. “This is not what any of us wanted, but we need to mind the challenges we face with COVID-19.”

Enjoyed by tens of thousands each year in person, this is the first time in its history the Phoenix Veterans Day Parade will not occur since its inception on November 11, 1997

“Although the parade is several months away, it takes planning and preparation to put on such a large-scale special event,” said Paula Pedene, Parade Founder.  “Additionally, our Veterans Service Organizations typically take months to plan their floats, entries, and round up volunteers to gather in a place that currently isn’t in compliance with public health guidelines.  While we are disappointed, we will not be able to meet in person; we believe that not doing so will prevent the spread of COVID-19”, she said.

“We all know what the Phoenix Veterans Day Parade means to us, as well as the significance of Veterans Day around the world,” said Howard Doyle, Commander of the Perch Base Submarine Unit.  “We had been in the parade since its inception 24 years ago, but now we need to take responsibility to help keep our veterans and our community safe,” he added.

Many of our veterans represent high-risk groups for COVID-19 complications, such as those from Vietnam, Korea, and World War II.  In addition, many veterans have unique health challenges due to their exposure to wartime effects such as Agent Orange, Post Traumatic Stress, etc.

HAV was also advised by health leaders that gathering thousands of parade participants and spectators in a two-mile space where they are often within a foot of each other, has the potential to create a high-risk environment for viral spread, including those termed as super-spreaders events.

“Although HAV will not be hosting its 24th annual Parade, we will celebrate Veterans Day with a special celebration called USA, A Beacon of Liberty. We are collaborating with the City of Phoenix, our broadcast partners, and sponsors, elected officials, and public health officials in exploring new and safe ways we can continue to honor America’s veterans on their special day,” said Pedene.

“We’re still going to honor our veterans and help educate students about the importance of their service to our county.  HAV will host an Honor Our Heroes veteran’s recognition campaign. We will also continue our Essay competition for High School students throughout the state of Arizona and award cash prizes for the winners”, added Ishmael.

The Honor Our Heroes campaign and Essay competition are now open for nominations.  You can learn how to nominate veterans and submit essays at www.honoringamericasveterans.org.



Due to COVID-19, Phoenix Veterans Day Parade May Change for 2020

Phoenix, AZ – Tackling the issue of presenting the Phoenix Veterans Day Parade is front and center for Honoring America’s Veterans (HAV) new Executive Director, Paula Pedene.

“Our first order of business is determining how to present the Phoenix Veterans Day Parade on Veterans Day in November,” Pedene says. “With COVID-19, it likely means changing the event from in-person to something we host online or on television.”

To determine the way forward, Pedene, the former parade coordinator, is leading the discussion with several officials, including Phoenix Mayor Kate ‘Gallego’s office, City of Phoenix Police, the Arizona Department of Veterans Services, and others.

“This discussion may seem early, but a large-scale special event like this takes extensive pre-planning,” says Pedene.

Pedene, and the HAV Board of Directors, are discussing options on how to transition the Parade, involving approximately 3000 participants and 40,000 attendees, to a virtual event to comply with public safety guidelines.

“We’re pretty certain we need to move the Parade to a virtual event for the safety of our veterans and our spectators,” says HAV President Brian Ishmael. “We’re considering a television show or streaming event to include interviews with the seven Veteran Grand Marshals. It could also mean having the High School Essay winners read their winning entries online.”

Ishmael adds the board is pleased to have Pedene, a recent Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) retiree, continue her advocacy on behalf of our nation’s veterans as the first Executive Director of HAV. He believes her transition, from a Senior Communication Specialist at VA national headquarters, to the role of a nonprofit leader, brings strength to their organization.

“Whether it is grappling with solutions to honoring veterans virtually, moving past the pandemic, or ensuring our veterans continue to get the care and service they deserve, Paula’s history of ethical conduct is critical to moving us forward,” said Ishmael.

The HAV board is looking to make a final decision about the Parade in June.

Paula Pedene was one of the first whistleblowers at the Phoenix VA, and her disclosures led to several crucial changes at the agency. She now uses her whistleblower experience to highlight and educate people about the importance of ethics advocacy.

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Media, please note: You can find images of previous Parade’s online at https://havparade.smugmug.com/The-Phoenix-Veterans-Day-Parad


Donate Blood

As veterans, we understand what it means to be courageous in challenging times. That’s why we’re asking you to Be Bold and Donate Blood. Due to fears of the coronavirus, many citizens are canceling their blood donation appointments. We’re asking you to step in. Below is a list of our current blood donations stations. #HowWeHelpVeterans

American Red Cross Blood Drive Info:

Vitalant Blood Drive Info: (Formerly United Blood Services)


Support a Local Food Bank

Many organizations are working to put an end to the homeless veteran population, and many of them rely on food donations. Right now, there’s a stronger need for donations for many more veterans who need our help. Below is a list of organizations you can support. #HowWeHelpVeterans

St. Mary’s Food Bank:

Arizona Food Pantries:


Stay Up to Date on Valuable Resources for Veterans

Below are valuable links to help you keep up to date on the pulse of the Veterans Community. #HowWeHelpVeterans

Specific updates regarding coronavirus and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA): https://www.publichealth.va.gov/n-coronavirus/

Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Hospitals. Currently, they have active screening protocols for every employee/patient/volunteer in place. Limits on visitors.

Phoenix VA Health Care System:

Southern Arizona (Tucson) VA Health Care System:

Northern Arizona (Prescott) VA Health Care System:

VA Regional Office:
(No walk-ins, appointments, counseling. File claims online)

National Memorial Cemetery Administration (NCA) of Arizona:
(Currently, there are no committal services and no burial honors and limited to 10 attendees at internment ceremonies)

Arizona Department of Veterans Services:


Phoenix Veterans Day Parade Announces 2019 Parade Grand Marshals

Honoring America’s Veterans (HAV) is announcing the following Grand Marshals for the Phoenix Veterans Day Parade:

  • Lieutenant Colonel Robert Ashby, World War II. U.S. Air Force (Sun City West, AZ): A Tuskegee airman and first black captain for Frontier Airlines, Robert Ashby was born July 17, 1926 in Yemassee, SC. As a cadet he flew the Stearman PT-17, AT-6, and the B-25. Ashby graduated as a second lieutenant with the Tuskegee Class of 45-H on November 20, 1945. After. President Harry S. Truman integrated the armed forces, and Ashby was assigned to Wright Patterson Air Force Base in August 1949 for a short tour. Later, he was assigned to a Reserve Troop Carrier Wing at Cleveland Municipal Airport. Here he trained in the T-6 and C-46 aircraft. In 1952, Ashby flew B-26’s for a year of combat in Korea while stationed at K-8. In 1956, in England, Ashby flew the T-33, B-45 and B-66. He trained in the B-47 aircraft and became a B-47 instructor. Reaching the status of Lieutenant Colonel, Robert Ashby retired honorably from the U.S. Air Force in July 1965, after 21 years of fighting racial problems as well as the enemies of America.
  • Captain William Leasure, Korean War, U.S. Air Force (City, AZ): William “Bill” Leasure joined the United States Air Force in June 1954 and served 5 years as an Armament System Officer. During his time in the United States Air Force, Captain Leasure served in Colorado where he was involved in testing the F111, one of the newest and most technological advanced aircraft of its time. He was directly involved in the testing of this new aircraft and was a member of a team of brave pilots and crewmen who worked on the many bugs associated with F-111 until it was deemed “fit to fly”. During Captain Leasure’s time in service he served alongside numerous proud and dedicated patriots and is proud of his time in service. Captain Leasure believes that the training he and his comrades received was the best in the world and attributes his training and experience in United Sates Air Force for many of the successes he has had over his lifetime.
  • Staff Sergeant William Tafoya, Vietnam, U.S. Army (Goodyear, AZ): Bill Tafoya is an Arizona native, born in Winslow, and moved to Tempe when he was 12. He volunteered to join the U.S. Army when he was 17. Following training, he was stationed in Fairbanks, Alaska, with the 1st Battalion, 47th Infantry, where he was assigned to Ski Patrol. After a short period of time, he was shipped to Hawaii for tropical training and then joined the 25th Infantry Division. The 25th was assigned to Cu Chi, a dense jungle portion of Vietnam, that was thick with Viet Cong. As a high school student, Bill was disappointed he was not large enough to be accepted to the football team. Yet he found in Vietnam, due to his smaller size, the 25th had just the right job that he qualified for, and this was as a “Tunnel Rat”. The Viet Cong had extensive and elaborate tunnels in Vietnam. It took just the right volunteer to enter these tunnels, mostly crawling on their stomach in such a tiny space, with a flashlight in one hand, and a weapon in the other, in order to root out the enemy. Spending two years in Vietnam with the 25th, he was awarded many decorations, medals, badges and commendations. Among these awards are the Combat Infantryman Badge, Expert Rifle, three Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star. Bill was awarded the Bronze Star for rendering aid to his squad after entering a mine field. Afterwards, Bill himself stepped onto a trip wire and reinforcements were able to extract him before it blew. Bill is very proud of his military service, the strong bonds that are only formed in a combat situation. Bill refers to them as “my brothers” and he will never forget those that gave their lives.
  • Master Sergeant Norbert “Dave” Yanez, (Air Force), Cold War, U.S. Air Force (Peoria, AZ): Dave was born and raised in Globe Arizona. Being one of 18 members of Dave’s family to serve in the United States military, it was just an easy decision when his friend suggested that they join the U.S. Air Force. His service spanned 23 years, rising to the rank of Master Sergeant. Dave’s service started during the Cold War and included service in England, Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ during the Cuba Missile Crisis, Southeast Asia, (Vietnam and Thailand) and Panama. His many military occupations include a wide variety of skills. Dave started out as an Air Policeman, during that time he was a military police dog handler for four years, a T.I., Air Force drill instructor, then cross trained into the education and training career field. He was the Non-commissioned officer in charge of the curriculum section of the Inter-American Air Force Academy in Panama. Dave’s many awards and decorations include; Meritorious Service Medal with one oak leaf cluster, Air Force Commendation with three oak leaf clusters, the Air Force Presidential Unit Citation, Air Force Outstanding Unit Citation with four oak leaf clusters, Vietnam Service Medal with four campaign stars, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry cross with palm and Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal. Dave is 80 years young and continues to donate his time and talents to; American Red Cross (Luke AFB, 56th Medical Group), Glendale Police Department, Volunteer In Police Services, (VIPS), DUET of Arizona (volunteers helping assist seniors in their daily life needs), and was the coordinator for Luna/Stalls Memorial, raising $280,000 over 10 year span.
  • Private First-Class Robert Sims, Desert Storm, U.S. Marine Corps (Casa Grand, AZ): Robert “Bobby” Sims was “a small kid from Mammoth, Arizona” when he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps at 18 years old. He was assigned to 1st Battalion, 11th Marine, 1st Marine Division, and served aboard USS Germantown, USS Frederick, and USS Belleau Wood. He vividly recalled a morning in February of 1991, he stepped off the flight deck, and into a rare sight on the mess decks: steak and eggs for breakfast!? Immediately, he knew something big was about to happen. With Scud missiles flying overhead, he realized, “We’re in it now!” Sims didn’t talk much about his time on the battlefield, but according to the unit’s website, the 1st MarDiv “destroyed the enemy in its path as it led the breakthrough to Kuwait City.” Sims earned a Combat Action Ribbon, Navy Unit Commendation, Meritorious Mast, and other decorations. Robert Sims is now a Sergeant in the Gila River Police Department
  • Sergeant Ashley Marshall, Operation Iraqi Freedom, U.S. Army (Mesa, AZ): Ashley is the definition of Army Strong. Even when faced with hardships and the unthinkable, she pushes forward and is still such a kind and loving person.” Ashley Marshall said one of her older brothers is probably the reason she enlisted. He was already in the Army, but said, “It’d be too difficult for her. It was game on!” He advised her to “pick an easy MOS, not anything like Military Police (MP).” So, right out of high school, she went to basic, with plans to become a 31B–yes, an MP! Ashley barely turned 19 when she was sent to Baghdad in 2005. She quickly proved herself on the battlefield. While on patrol as a turret gunner just outside Camp Taji, Ashley’s HMMWV hit an IED. She was knocked out until they returned to the Forward Operating Base (FOB). In a second close-call, a truck was hit by an RPG. Marshall received the Combat Action Badge, two Army Commendations, and other military decorations. Ashley advanced to Sergeant (E5) by the end of her enlistments, got married and enrolled in Arizona State University, where she earned a Bachelors. Ashley is now a coordinator for the Veterans Upward Bound at ASU, and a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars
  • Petty Officer First Class Christopher Oshana, Operation Restore Hope, U.S. Navy (Goodyear, AZ): Christopher “Boats” Oshana was born in Bristol, Connecticut. At age 14 he was fascinated by the Seabees depicted in his father’s WWII Time-Life books and instantly knew that military life on the sea was for him. Upon graduation in 1984, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and has never regretted his decision. After graduating from Basic Training at the Naval Training Center at Great Lakes, he reported for his first duty aboard the USS Sylvania. He later transferred to the Fleet Combat Training Center in Virginia where he became a military working dog handler, sniffing out bombs and other threats. Chris then became a boatswain (hence his nickname, “Boats”) and served on the USS El Paso, followed by deployment to the Mediterranean Sea during Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield. When deployed for Operation Restore Hope in December 1992, “Boats” acted at a Causeway Barge Ferry Pilot to support the multi-national humanitarian aid effort in Somalia, by carrying necessary equipment, fuel, vehicles and combat cargo for the Marine Expeditionary Force on the ground. Other duty stations included the USS Puget Sound, the USS Tortuga, the Amphibious Construction Battalion Two and lastly, the Navy Recruiting District in Phoenix. After 20 years of dedicated service, Oshana crossed the quarterdeck for the last time, retiring from Naval service in 2004 with the rank of Boatswain Mate, 1st Class Petty Officer. The recipient of many medals and ribbons, he is particularly proud of earning the Southwest Asia Expeditionary and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medals.

We are also pleased to announce that M*A*S*H* star Loretta Swit will be the 2019 Celebrity Grand Marshal.

Celebrity Grand Marshal Loretta Swit: Actress, singer, and dancer Loretta Swit will commemorate our nation’s veterans in this year’s parade. Swit embraces the true compassion of animal advocacy and as such is striving to bring all Military K9 Working Dogs home from overseas. Working with HAV and the Military Working Dog parade entry, Swit will serve as Celebrity Grand Marshal to bring more attention to our veterans.

The Veterans Grand Marshals will participate in the Phoenix Veterans Day Parade at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11 in Central Phoenix. The Phoenix Veterans Day Parade has been billed as one of the largest in spectator attendance across the country and is now in its 23rd year. The parade is presented by Honoring Arizona’s Veterans, a 501c3 non-profit whose mission is to honor and recognize those military service members who have served our country.

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