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Profiles in Courage: Grand marshals in the 2019 Phoenix Veterans Day parade

(Getty Images Photo/Spencer Platt)

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

On Veterans Day, people across the U.S. 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 2019 Phoenix Veterans Day parade.

The grand marshals — Robert Ashby, William Leasure, William Tafoya, Norbert Yanez, Robert Sims, Christopher Oshana and Ashley Marshall — 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 the grand marshals, who were each profiled by KTAR News 92.3 FM reporters:


Robert “Bob” Ashby

Retired Lt. Col. Robert “Bob” Ashby enlisted in the Army Air Corps at age 17. He was called to active duty in 1944 and graduated as a second lieutenant in 1945. He was assigned that year to two white flying outfits in Japan during World War II but was not accepted because the Army was segregated at the time. He was removed from flying status until 1949, after President Harry S. Truman integrated the armed forces the previous year. Ashby flew in Korea and England and became an instructor before retiring in 1965.

Following his career in the military, Ashby started working for commercial airlines. He was a trainer for United Airlines before he became Frontier Airline’s first black pilot in 1973. He retired in 1986 after becoming the first black pilot of a major airline to reach the mandatory retirement age of 60.

William “Bill” Leasure

Capt. William “Bill” Leasure joined the Air Force in 1954 during the Korean War. He served as an armament system officer in Colorado, where he helped work out bugs in the F-111 until it was deemed “fit to fly.” He has four children with his late wife Mary Ann.

(Note: Leasure was not available to be interviewed.)

William “Bill” Tafoya

Staff Sgt. William “Bill” Tafoya was born in Winslow and moved to Tempe when he was 12. He joined the Army when he was 17 and was assigned to Ski Patrol in Alaska. He then joined the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii, which was assigned to Vietnam. He was awarded the Combat Infantryman Badge, Expert Rifle, three Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star.

Tafoya returned to Arizona to work in construction and manufacturing. He and his wife Erin have three sons, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. He is a member of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Disabled American Veterans due to his exposure to Agent Orange.

Norbert “Dave” Yanez Jr.

Master Sgt. Norbert “Dave” Yanez Jr. was born in Globe and became one of 18 members of his family to join the military. He joined the Air Force during the Cold War and served for 23 years in places including England, Panama, Vietnam and Thailand. He was stationed at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona during the Cuban Missile Crisis and earned the National Defense Service Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal and Meritorious Service Medal, among other decorations.

After his military career, Yanez worked for the city of Glendale as a code enforcement officer for more than 20 years. He is now retired and volunteers with multiple local organizations. He and his wife, Evangelina, have three children and four grandchildren.

Robert Sims

Pfc. Robert Sims grew up in Mammoth, and, inspired by his uncles who served in the Vietnam War, he enlisted in the Marine Corps at age 18. He served aboard the USS Germantown, USS Frederick and USS Belleau Wood during Desert Storm. He earned a Combat Action Ribbon, Navy Unit Commendation, Meritorious Mast and other decorations.

Sims is known to take off the week of Nov. 10 each year to celebrate the birthday of the Marine Corps. He is now a sergeant with the Gila River Police Department and encourages all officers and veterans to talk through difficult times.

Christopher Oshana

Petty Officer 1st Class Christopher Oshana was born in Connecticut and raised in Vermont. Inspired by his father’s World War II books, he enlisted in the Navy after he graduated high school. He was deployed to the Mediterranean Sea during Desert Storm and Desert Shield and to Somalia for Operation Restore Hope in 1992. He traveled to 20 countries and 23 states during his 20-year career and earned the Southwest Asia Expeditionary and the Global War on Terrorism Service medals.

Oshana retired in 2004 and turned his focus toward photography. His photos have been published in the North Valley Magazine and Phoenix New Times, among other local outlets. His latest project, “PTSD, The Invisible Scar,” is a documentary about veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. He currently works as a civilian operations analyst at the U.S. Army’s Phoenix Recruiting Battalion and lives in Goodyear with his dog.

Ashley Marshall

Sgt. Ashley Marshall joined the Army right out of high school, in the footsteps of her older brother. She had barely turned 19 in 2005 when she was sent to Baghdad, Iraq. She received the Combat Action Badge, two Army Commendations and other military decorations during her tours.

After her enlistment, Marshall earned a master’s degree in education from Arizona State University. She and her late husband, John, whom she met at Fort Riley in Kansas, have two children. John died from a terminal illness, leaving Ashley as a single mother at age 29. She is now a coordinator for Veterans Upward Bound at ASU and a member of the VFW.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Griselda Zetino, Jim Cross, Debra Dale, Peter Samore and Ali Vetnar contributed to this report. 

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