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Profiles in Courage: Grand marshals in the Phoenix Veterans Day parade

(Pexels photo)

KTAR News 92.3 FM Profiles in Courage special series brought to you by Sanderson Ford. 

On Veterans Day, people across the United States will honor those who risked life and limb to protect the country and secure our freedoms.

Here at KTAR News 92.3 FM, we wanted to show our thanks by broadcasting a special profile of each of the grand marshals in the Phoenix Veterans Day parade.

The grand marshals — Ian Parkinson, Francis Frank Doherty, Gene Wood, Anthony Irby, Santo Graziano, Mike Rizzo and Abby Malchow — all served our nation in various capacities, in various conflicts and on various continents, but all have one thing in common: They are heroes.

The grand marshals will also be featured during the parade on Monday, which will start at 11 a.m. near Central Avenue and Bethany Home Road and will end at Seventh Street and Indian School Road at approximately 1 p.m.

Here are each of the grand marshals, who were each profiled by KTAR News 92.3 FM reporters:


Mike Rizzo

Mike Rizzo served in the U.S. Army during World War II. He was drafted in April 1943 in Camp Wheeler, Georgia. His military career included deployments to England, France and Germany. He came close to not coming home five times. But for him, the toughest part of his military career was losing three of his closest friends to war.

Throughout his life, he remembered the men he served with and chose to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, an Italian Army veteran, who taught him: “If you don’t inject a little humor into each day, it’s a wasted day.”

Rizzo earned the Purple Heart for what he describes as “being at the right place at the right time.” He also was awarded the Bronze Star and other notable medals.

His life ended last month. He passed away at the age of 94. His family pledges to keep his legacy alive as they represent him at this year’s Phoenix Veterans Day Parade.

Anthony Irby

(KTAR News photo)

Army Specialist Anthony Irby — a veteran of two wars — enlisted in 1988, just out of high school. He completed his tour in 1992 as an Army specialist, with almost a dozen medals to his name. The rewards didn’t make the transition to civilian life any easier. Irby eventually pulled himself out of homelessness and despair to become a well-respected veterans’ advocate at the Phoenix V.A.

Ian Parkinson

(KTAR News photo)

Army Sgt. Ian Parkinson is this year’s youngest grand marshal at 28. He joined the Army at 19. During a deployment to Afghanistan, an improvised land mine took off both legs below the knee. He didn’t let that stop him from earning a college degree and motivating others to push on no matter what their life situation or injuries.

Abby Malchow

(KTAR News photo)

An Iraq war veteran with a mission to help veterans who, like herself, struggle with post-traumatic stress is among this year’s grand marshals. Abby Malchow was deployed to Fallujah and Ramadi in 2006 as part of the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 40 but said the real impacts of the war revealed themselves in the first few months after she returned home: A shipmate took his life and not long afterward her best friend took his own life.

Today, as part of the George W. Bush Stand-To Veteran Leadership Initiative, she helps provide targeted intervention through artificial intelligence on social media platforms aimed at identifying and preventing veteran suicides in a collaboration with the VA’s Crisis Line. Malchow was nominated to be a grand marshal by her Intel co-worker and fellow veteran Kelly Zancola.

Malchow is the only woman and Navy veteran in this year’s group of grand marshals and looks at this as an opportunity to motivate the community and show the importance of paying it forward and continue service.

Santo Graziano

(KTAR News photo)

Santo Graziano was a sergeant in the U.S. Army who served in Vietnam. His father was a commander in the Army in World War II and served in Italy, where he met his wife and Santo was born.  After Santo and his brother graduated from college, they both decided to follow their father’s footsteps and joined the Army. Santo was sent to Vietnam. Graziano spent two years in active service and another year in the Reserves, and earned a number of medals, including the Bronze Star, National Defense Service, Overseas Service, Army Commendation and Vietnam Service. His family says he rarely talks about his Vietnam experience. He only shares that it was very hard to get any sleep because he would be near rats as large as cats, and the shrapnel flying past him would keep him awake.  He says that serving in the military made him a better person. He now takes pride in volunteer work. He started the Food for the Poor Project for the Knights of Columbus, and also volunteers for St. Vincent de Paul’s Becker House.

Francis “Frank” Doherty

(KTAR News photo)

Army Lieutenant Col. Francis “Frank” Doherty was born in 1928 and grew up in Detroit. He was 17 when he enlisted in the Army in World War II and was given a non-combat assignment. He was called back to active duty during the Korean War in 1950, where he served as a machine gunner.

On May 17, 1951, near Sarong-chi, Korea, Doherty and his division were overrun from the rear of their position. During this battle, he was hit in the face with shrapnel from a grenade. Even though he was injured, Doherty showed his selfless, heroic duty and helped carry a wounded comrade to safety, all while exposing himself to the enemy. Doherty provided cover fire using his machine gun to ensure the rest of the division could get to safety. Once at a safe area, he organized his troops and set a new perimeter.

For his actions during this battle, Doherty was given the Bronze Star with the Letter “V” for heroic efforts, the Purple Heart and the Combat Infantry Badge with the Second Infantry Division.  After he returned home, he used the GI Bill to complete his degree at the University of Detroit and was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Air Force Reserves in 1954. He married his wife Camille in 1955, and they had eight children. He is a member of the Purple Heart Association, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, the Reserve Officer Association, the Alpha Kappa Psi fraternity and was a member of the Boy Scouts.

Gene Wood

(KTAR News photo)

First Sgt. Gene Wood is a proud veteran who served as an adviser to the Army and the National Guard. Wood served in both Vietnam and Desert Storm and his specialties include helicopter mechanics, a leadership role as crew chief, and adviser to the technical assistance and fielding team.

Wood told KTAR News 92.3 FM his most vivid memory from war was when he was in Saudi Arabia and talking to his wife on the phone. She asked him what was on going on over there and he said he didn’t know what she was talking about, she replied, “I think you are in war.” Then the phone went dead.

Gene said he was surprised and humbled when he discovered his wife had nominated him to a grand marshal for the Veterans Day parade. Wood proudly notes that the most important aspect of his job was to take care of the servicemen under his supervision.

He said, “While I was overseas taking care of my soldiers my wife was at home taking care of my children.” He respectfully speaks about the hard work and sacrifice his wife endured during his 23 years in service. With the number of times that he was overseas or away from home, she took exceptional care of the home front and managed their separation well.

His time overseas taught him a very valuable lesson: to be patient with other countries and populations of people they served around, especially those who don’t understand what American servicemen do. Wood said, “When I was in Kuwait we had to have a lot of patience, that’s something I learned when I was there. They operate on a different time zone in their head. We would ask them something and they would respond with, ‘Have patience we will get with it in Shala.'”

Wood’s notable career accomplishments include the Bronze Star, Air Medal, and Master Air Crewman’s Wings, as well as the Meritorious Service Medal for his outstanding achievements and service to the United States.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Kathy Cline, Bob McClay and Jim Cross contributed to this report. 

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