2019 Phoenix Veterans Day Parade Grand Marshals
Lt. Col. Robert “Bob” Ashby (ret.)
Lt. Colonel, U.S. Army
World War II Veteran Grand Marshal
Robert Ashby, a Tuskegee airman and first black captain for Frontier Airlines was born July 17, 1926, in Yemassee, S.C. After his father passed away, Bob and his mother Lillian Ashby, moved to Jersey City, N.J., along with his brother, James, and sister, Elizabeth.
As a student in high school, Ashby began to investigate pilot training after hearing of the experiences of black pilots in the 99th. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps at age seventeen as a candidate for the Aviation Cadet program. He was called to active duty in August 1944 after graduating from Ferris High School in Jersey City, N.J. Later, he received college training with the University of Maryland and U.C.L.A through the ‘on-base’ College Program. Ashby was assigned to Keesler Field, Mississippi for basic training and testing for entry into the Aviation Cadet program. In December 1944 Ashby was sent to Tuskegee, Alabama to begin cadet raining.
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. Ashby was assigned to Japan as a part of the U.S. occupying force. On his arrival in Japan, Ashby found he was assigned to two white flying outfits, neither of which would accept him in their unit because he was black and the Army was segregated at the time.
Second Lieutenant Ashby was removed from pilot status and assigned to a black company in the Quartermaster Department in Tokyo, Japan. In May 1949, Ashby was assigned to the black unit at Lockbourne Air Field, Ohio where he was reinstated to flying status. 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.
Robert “Bob” Ashby started his commercial aviation career in 1965 with United Airlines as one of their flight operations instructors. He taught in the classroom the airplane simulator for the 727 aircraft. In 1968, Ashby helped to write the training program for the 747 aircraft. His group wrote the curriculum, formulated the objectives, wrote the manuals, and instructed the crews in the classroom subjects, simulator and aircraft skills.
In 1973, Ashby was employed by Frontier Airlines as a pilot, flying as a second officer, first officer, and then as a captain. He was the first black pilot hired by Frontier Airlines. He flew various aircraft with Frontier, including the Tin Otter, Convair 580, Boeing 737, and MD-80.
Robert Ashby holds an outstanding record of precision, quality, courtesy, and safety with Frontier Airlines with over 20,000 flying hours. He is the first black pilot to reach mandatory retirement age (60 years) with a major airline. Robert Ashby retired on July 17, 1986, while flying as Captain of the Boeing 737.
Captain William “Bill” Leasure – Air Force
Captain, US Air Force
Korean War Veteran Grand Marshal
Captain William “Bill” Leasure served in the United States Air Force during the Korean War. He joined in June 1954 and served five years as an Armament System Officer.
During his time in the 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 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 the Air Force for many of the successes he has had over his lifetime.
Captain Leasure and his late wife Mary Ann are the proud parents of William Jr, Paul, Mary Louise, and Caroline.
Captain Leasure is extremely humbled by his selection as a Korean War Veteran Grand Marshall and is proud to represent his fellow Korean War veterans. He recognizes the importance of Veteran’s Day and what this day means to the brave men and women who have served in the United States military.
Staff Sergeant William “Bill” Tafoya – Army
Specialist 5 U.S. Army
Vietnam War, Veteran Grand Marshal
Bill Tafoya is an Arizona native, born in Winslow, and his family moved to Tempe when he was 12. He volunteered to join the U.S. Army when he was 17 years old. 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, he was disappointed he was not large enough to be accepted to the football team. 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, to root out the enemy.
Spending two years in Vietnam with the 25th, Tafoya 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 minefield. Afterward, he stepped onto a tripwire–but reinforcements were able to extract him before it blew.
Bill Tafoya returned to Arizona and received further education while working full-time and raising a family. He worked a variety of jobs, including construction, at the Wigwam Resort, APS, and he retired from manufacturing. He is married to Erin, with three sons, eight grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
Tafoya is a member of the following Veteran Service Organizations: The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and is a lifetime member of the Disabled American Veterans. He was exposed to Agent Orange, as were so many that fought in Vietnam.
He is very proud of his military service, the strong bonds that are only formed in a combat situation. Tafoya refers to them as “my brothers,” and he will never forget those that gave their lives to defend our freedoms. In recent years, he was able to reconnect with three veterans he served with, and they met for three years in a row during July in Iowa and Nebraska.
Bill Tafoya has passed on his values of love and dedication to Country and his community to his children. He is grateful that his son Eric nominated him for this great honor, to serve as Veteran Grand Marshal, representing the Veterans of the Vietnam War. He is proud to stand alongside his fellow Grand Marshals and be in the parade among so many Veterans.
Master Sergeant Norbert “Dave” Yanez – Air Force
COLD WAR GRAND MARSHAL
Master Sergeant U.S. Air Force 1958-1981
Dave Yanez Jr. was born and raised in Globe, Arizona. As one of 18 members of his family to serve in the United States military, it was an easy decision when his friend suggested they join the U.S. Air Force.
His service spanned 23 years, rising to the rank of Master Sergeant. His military career began 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 as an Air Policeman, during that time he was a military police dog handler for four years, an 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.
Yanez’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, National Defense Service Medal, Air Force Good Conduct Medal with one Silver Leaf Cluster, Army Good Conduct Medal, Air Force Longevity Medal with four Oak Leaf Clusters, Small Arms Expert Ribbon, NCO Professional Military Education Ribbon, Vietnam Service Medal with four Campaign Stars, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm and Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.
After this military service, Yanez went to work for the City of Glendale as a Code Enforcement Officer for more than 20 years enforcing City Codes and maintaining the ambiance of the city.
His retirement has just been another chapter in his life, moving from paid employment to full-time community volunteer with continued service to his community, state, and nation. He has worked to assist veterans in learning what benefits and services are available to them. His list of community service awards is many and varied and include; Luke AFB 2008 Retired Military Volunteer of the Year – 58th Fighter Wing. City of Glendale Police Department 2015 Volunteer of the Year, and Arizona Black Law Enforcement Employees Volunteer of the Year 2016.
Dave Yanez 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 a 10 year span,(benefitting, Phoenix Children’s Hospital).
He and his wife Evangelina have just celebrated their 57th wedding anniversary. They have three children and four grandchildren. Dave’s legacy of service has been passed on through them. The example he set has produced future generations of college graduates, military men, educators, law enforcement, and public service members on many levels.
Private First Class Robert Sims – USMC
Private First Class, US Marine Corp
Desert Storm Veteran Grand Marshal
“It’s a humbling experience. A lot of people did what we did. Some got hurt, some didn’t make it back.”
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.
Sims said being in the military “taught him how to be a person.” Two people who inspired him were his uncles Frank, and Richard who served in “The Corps” during Vietnam. He said they didn’t talk about it, but there was “something special about the way they carried themselves. They always helped others out.”
Chris Romero, a corrections officer and longtime friend who nominated Sims said these characteristics define Bobby. “He made up his mind to help the ones who couldn’t help themselves even after he fulfilled his military duties.”
Sim’s love for his fellow citizen and his Corps are evident. Each year, he takes the whole week off to celebrate the USMC birthday on November 10th and feels proud when his family & friends call him to say they’ve contributed gifts to the annual “Marine Toys for Tots” drive.
Sims said through his time in the Marines, he “gained more respect for people. One never knows where someone else came from or what they’ve dealt with.” These are lessons he has carried into his role as a Sergeant in the Gila River Police Department. “I tell the rookies they’ll go through some stuff, and they need to talk through it, and try not to take it home.”
Whether it’s his fellow officers or fellow veterans, Sims stressed that it’s critical to talk through difficult times and that getting help shouldn’t come with a stigma, but should be viewed as a sign of strength. “I want them to know we’re here for them.”
Romero has witnessed this first-hand. “He always encourages others, never talks down in any way. He’s always willing to help out.”
Petty Officer First Class Christopher Oshana – Navy
Boatswain Mate, First Class Petty Officer, U.S. Navy
Operation Restore Hope
Christopher “Boats” Oshana was born in Bristol, Connecticut and raised in the picturesque town of Barnet in Vermont. At age 14 he was fascinated by the Seabees depicted in his father’s World War II Time-Life books and instantly knew that military life on the sea was for him. Upon high school graduation in 1984, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, which provided him with an opportunity to travel the world while protecting our Nation in peace and wartime. Indeed, Officer Oshana has traveled to 20 different countries and 23 states in his 20-year Naval career.
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.
Oshana 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 the 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.
In 2006, Oshana revisited his love of photography and submitted portraits of his twin daughters to a contest, which he won. The photos were published and spurred his passion for photography capturing individuals, corporations and even serves as the portrait photographer for the Phoenix Battalion’s annual training conference. His award-winning artwork has been featured in print and online in many Valley publications such as North Valley Magazine, Phoenix New Times, The Recruiter Journal and LocalRevibe Magazine and exhibited widely.
Phoenix business owner Wayne Rainey offered Oshana workspace and an internship at the monOrchid Gallery in 2013. This opportunity and his involvement with the Veterans of Foreign Wars encouraged him to focus on a pictorial view of the warriors whose wounds are not visible – those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Oshana’s latest project, “PTSD, The Invisible Scar” is a photographic and film documentary about veterans diagnosed with PTSD. It invites the viewers to look beyond the facades and inside the private lives of a few of our country’s veterans who suffer from PTSD. The photographic sessions are often cathartic and healing.
“As a retired Navy veteran and photographer, I can bridge the gap between these worlds, exposing the invisible scars that these brave men and women bare.”
Oshana currently works as a civilian Operations Analyst at the U.S. Army’s Phoenix Recruiting Battalion. He lives in Goodyear, Arizona and enjoys spending time with his family and with his 13-year-old Boxer dog.
Sergeant Ashley Marshall – Army
Sergeant, U.S. Army
Operation Iraqi Freedom Veteran Grand Marshal
“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.” Nominator, Stephanie Beilman has every right to brag about her daughter. 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 Military Occupation Specialty, not anything like Military Police (MP).” So, right out of high school, she went to basic, with plans to become a 31B–yes, MP.
Marshall barely turned 19 when she was sent to Baghdad in 2005. One of the first soldiers she encountered was John Marshall. “We didn’t get along at first. He was the most squared away soldier I ever met, and he saw me as a junior who didn’t know anything.”
However, she 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.
John and Ashley’s mutual respect turned into something more when they were stationed at Ft. Riley. “By my second tour (his third) to Iraq, we knew we were meant for each other.” Both advanced to Sergeant (E5) by the end of their enlistments. They married, and Ashley enrolled in Arizona State University, where she earned a Bachelors, shortly before their daughter, Riley—named after the base where they served together—was born.
Less than two years later, she finished a Masters in Education, and they welcomed their son Colt. Ashley Marshall laughed, “John got to choose the name. It was good we didn’t have twins, because he wanted to name them Smith and Wesson.”
Then, came hardships. John was diagnosed with a terminal illness, and “he was gone just a short 18 months later. At 29, Ashley found herself a single mother and teacher with two small children.”
Riley is now seven, and Colt is six. Their mom remains grateful for the time she had with her husband, as well as her five years in the Army. “It gave me a family. When John passed away, so many people flew out, including a hard-nosed sergeant. He was the first to arrive, and he stayed the longest to make sure the kids and I were all right.”
Ashley Marshall is now a coordinator for the Veterans Upward Bound at ASU, and a member of VFW, The Mission Continues, Team Red, White and Blue, and Valors on Eighth. Regarding being selected to represent OIF Veterans, she wants to “Honor those who don’t think twice about putting their life up for someone else.”
Her mom Stephanie sees an additional value: “Show all veterans and women that strong is a choice we all have… no matter the circumstance.” Marshal added, “We get a little embarrassed, but lift our chin, puff out her chest & say, that is my story, and I’m pretty [dang] proud of where I am now, and I have the Army to thank for a lot of it.”