We are pleased to present the 2018 Grand Marshal of the East Valley Veterans Parade, Commander Lester E. Gray, Jr. Born in 1922, Commander Gray joined the V-5 Aviation Cadet program when war broke out. Called to active duty in August 1942, after training, he was commissioned on 15 June 1943.
Gray was assigned to VF-10 and transitioned to the F6F Hellcat in Maui before boarding the Enterprise of TF-58. He flew missions throughout the Pacific Theater. On 11 June 1944, supporting the invasion of Saipan, Gray left the Enterprise on a mid-afternoon mission, immediately destroying an Oscar. Flying on between Saipan and Tinian, a dogfight ensued and he downed two Zeros (Zekes) to complete his triple. The next day, Gray’s division spotted a Betty, and on one pass, Gray and 3 other pilots shared a victory. Later assigned to the Intrepid, equipped with F4U-4 Corsairs, Gray returned to the Pacific Theater. Lt. Gray became an ace on 12 April 1945 when he downed two Zekes while flying patrol north of Okinawa.
After the war he remained in the reserves and was recalled to active duty during the Korean War. He flew F4Us off the Tarawa. Upon returning to the States, he was an instructor for Training Command before being released to inactive duty in December 1955. His major awards and decorations include two Distinguished Flying Crosses and five Air Medals, as well as a tally of 5¼ victories.
After his service, he joined Temco Aircraft as a Senior Technical Writer, then later Goodyear Aerospace in the same capacity. He retired in 1973 to open Arizona Divers Supply and eventually sold his business in 1985. He worked for the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office in the Lake Patrol Division until 2001. Lester and his wife Paula reside in Litchfield.
Our 2018 Army service representative is Private First Class Loyd Boyd. During World War II, Loyd was drafted into the Army. He was shipped off in December 1942 to the San Pedro, California draft registration/intake station to muster into the military. He was then sent to Ft Huachuca, AZ as part of the 480th MP Battalion. While there, they lived in the desert with tents as their barracks.
Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the number of black soldiers in the US military increased. In 1942, as the need for personnel increased, the US Army activated the 93rd Infantry at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, the first all-black division formed during World War II. Nearly 1,400 structures at Fort Huachuca were built to house segregated black male and female personnel.
After the service, Loyd returned to finish high school. He was a star football player, as well as a member of the marching band. An accomplished musician on multiple instruments, Loyd played for the next 50+ years at dances, church events, funerals, family events and hospitals. He became a diesel mechanic and bus driver for the school district for 20 years, then went on to work for GM at the Proving Grounds by Williams Field, working in the capacity of engineer until the age of 72.
Serving as our 2018 Navy representative is Builder Second Class Carey Slade. Carey completed her Builder “A” School training in Gulfport, Mississippi, graduating with honors. She went on to be stationed in NAF Atsugi, Japan Public Works for three years, were she received letters of appreciation and awards for a job well done. While stationed at NAF Atsugi, she attended training for the Honeywell computer system and assisted in computerizing vehicle maintenance scheduling for the base fleet, along with her regular duties as a Builder. Her next duty station was Point Loma Submarine Base, Public Works in San Diego, where she volunteered for the Auxiliary Security Force. She also was a volunteer for the V.I.T.A. program assisting military personnel with their income taxes.
While serving, Carey was awarded her Good Conduct Medal and three Sea Service ribbons. She proudly served for 5 years, when she was honorably discharged for medical reasons. After leaving the Navy, Carey went on to work at Bank of American in their Credit Card Fraud Unit where she excelled at stopping fraud at the point of sale. She has been writing and playing music for over 30 years and has released three solo CD’s and three full band CD’s.
Carey is currently the Commander of Disabled American Veterans (DAV) East Valley Chapter 8. She was also appointed by DAV Department of Arizona to be the Women Veterans Outreach Coordinator and served for FY 2016-17 as Northern District Adjutant.
Joining us as the 2018 Marine Corps representative is PFC Gary A. Rood. Gary enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1964 directly following high school graduation. Three days after his 18th birthday, he was on his way to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego for basic training.
He went on to Infantry Training Regiment at Camp Pendleton and was assigned to a weapons platoon. Within months he was aboard ship, headed to Viet Nam. In Viet Nam he was on 18 different operations engaging the Viet Cong and the NVA. In March 1966, he was a part of Operation Utah. The battalion came under attack by a well-concealed enemy force in superior numbers. The firefight was intense with a wall of bullets coming at them. As his gunner went down in front of him, he spied a 50-caliber machine gun. He was carrying the M-72 Light Anti-Tank Weapon, but the weapon misfired three times. He abandoned the malfunctioning weapon and hurried across a fire swept rice paddy to obtain grenades. Retracing his steps through the embattled field, he courageously charged through increasingly intense and accurate Viet Cong fire to within 30 feet of an enemy 50-caliber machine gun position. He destroyed the enemy gun position eliminating a serious threat which had prevented the advance of his unit. He lost 15 Marine comrades and friends that day and many more were wounded. For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action while serving with Company F, Second Battalion, Seventh Marines in action against insurgent communist forces, PFC Gary A. Rood was awarded the Silver Star.
Gary tells us that the JFK quote, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” had always resonated with him. He viewed his service as the opportunity to serve his country. He states that he chose the Marine Corps because “I wanted the best”. Gary was inducted into The Ohio Military Hall of Fame for Valor in 2004. He lives in San Tan Valley with Eileen, his wife of 45 years.
Our 2018 Air Force Representative is Colonel Roger K. Parrish. Fascinated by flying since he was a child, he received his pilot’s license just after graduating from high school. He was a member of the Air Force ROTC programs at Southern Illinois University and the University of Illinois.
After graduation, he entered Air Force flight training in the T-34, T-28 and T-33. He graduated first in his class in 1957 and went on to train in the F-1OO at Luke Air Force Base. From 1959-66 he flew the F-100, F-105 and F-4 at Bitburg Air Base in West Germany. In 1966, selected to attend the Top Gun school at Nellis AFB, Roger won all three trophies available for academics, gunnery skill and a vote for best student by the instructors. In 1969-1970 Roger flew 133 combat missions in Southeast Asia. In what is known as the Chu Lai incident, Parrish once led another F-4 crew back to base after the aircraft had been badly damaged and the pilot seriously wounded, saving the lives of the two pilots. In July 1972 Roger was selected to fly with the Air Force’s Thunderbirds team, leading the team in 1973 and 1974, flying both the F-4 and T-38.
Following his military career, Roger went on to become a test pilot and demonstration pilot with Lear Jet before joining America West Airlines as a pilot. At America West, Parrish flew the Boeing 737 and Airbus A-320. He rose to become assistant vice president of flight operations, director of training, and finished his career at AWA as a simulator instructor in the Airbus program. Parrish currently lives in Mesa, Arizona, with Bette, his wife of 54 years. They have four children and nine grandchildren.
Joining us as the 2018 Coast Guard representative is Lieutenant Commander Wes Burns. Wes enlisted into the Coast Guard Reserve in 1998, and is a plank owner at Port Security Unit 313 in Everett, WA. In 2002, while serving as a Port Security Specialist First Class, he applied for the Select Reserve Direct Commission program. After earning his commission, he served on Active Duty for 30 months; initially at the Group Seattle Vessel Board & Search Team, but chiefly as a Homeland Security Watch Officer in the Sector Seattle Command Center. Subsequently, he was the first reserve officer assigned to Coast Guard Station Seattle. He later served as Division Officer for Sector San Diego’s Enforcement Division, Incident Management Division, and Weapons Division. In 2015 Wes returned to PSU 313 as the Operations Department Chief, and deployed to Joint Task Force Guantanamo. He was also the unit’s Executive Officer before transferring to his current position at Coast Guard Pacific Area Command, office of Deployable Specialized Forces, in Alameda, CA.
His awards include the Port Security Insignia, Coast Guard Commendation Medal, four Coast Guard Achievement Medals, Army Achievement Medal, and three Coast Guard Commandant Letters of Commendation.
Wes earned a BS in Business Administration from the University of Redlands and an MPA degree from Seattle University. He worked for over 13 years as a police officer and detective before transitioning to full-time contract work as a court-appointed security consultant. Wes resides in Chandler with his wife of 23 years, Gillian, who is a US Navy veteran, along with two retired racing greyhounds. He supports veteran causes through American Legion Post 91 and the American Legion Riders in Chandler.
We are privileged to be joined by Adolfo “Harpo” Celaya. Celaya survived the sinking of the USS Indianapolis which resulted in the greatest single loss of life at sea in the history of the U.S. Navy.
The day he turned 17, Celaya enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He said the fliers made it seem fun. “At that time in Tucson, they had pictures outside that said, ‘Join the Navy and see the world,’ and they had girls,” Celaya said. “There were girls at every port and stuff like that, which I never got to see…”
In July 1945, Celaya was aboard the USS Indianapolis, a flagship of the 5th Fleet, during World War II. The ship had just finished a high-speed trip to United States Army Air Force Base at Tinian to deliver parts of Little Boy, the first nuclear weapon ever used in combat, and was on her way to the Philippines on training duty. At 0015 on 30 July 1945, the ship was torpedoed by the Imperial Japanese Navy submarine I-58.
Celaya woke up to the boat on fire. “You hardly had any time to think. When I woke up … I just ran to the back, everybody seemed to be on fire,” he said. “I just went to the back, and I was just lucky that I got to the back. When I jumped off, we were probably about, I would say two stories high.” The ship sank in 12 minutes, plunging Celaya and hundreds of his fellow sailors into the sea, where they clung to sparse life vests and rafts, battling dehydration, weather exposure and shark-infested waters for more than four days while awaiting rescue. Of 1,195 crewmen aboard, approximately 300 went down with the ship. The remaining 900 faced exposure, dehydration, saltwater poisoning, and shark attacks. The Navy learned of the sinking when survivors were spotted four days later by the crew of a PV-1 Ventura on routine patrol. Only 317 survived and were pulled from the sea. Celaya was among the survivors.
Celaya left the Navy shortly after his ordeal and returned to Florence where he re-enrolled in school, playing on Florence High School’s 1947 state championship basketball team. “It helped me a lot to come back to school” he said, because it helped with his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Later, he moved to San Jose, California, where he and his son, Anthony, ran a heating and air conditioning company. For more than 26 years, he did not talk about the sinking of the Indianapolis. But a chance encounter with one of the pilots who rescued him and his crewmates changed his mind. Today, Celaya is well-known throughout Arizona for sharing his experiences with high school students as part of the Veterans Heritage Project. In 2017 the U.S. Post Office in Florence Arizona was named after Celaya in his honor.