We are pleased to present the 2017 Grand Marshal of the East Valley Veterans Parade, Major General David P. Rataczak. With more than 43 years of distinguished service with the U.S. Army culminating as The Adjutant General of the Arizona National Guard, General Rataczak holds a proud military record that includes:
- Combat service in Vietnam in 1966 where he flew more than 900 combat hours in attack helicopters.
- More than nine years as The Adjutant General of the Arizona National Guard and Director of the Department of Emergency and Military Affairs; a state department with over 8,000 military and emergency management professionals.
- The deployment of more than 5,000 Soldiers and Airmen from the Arizona National Guard for Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
Commander during the largest military operation conducted in Arizona, Operation Jump Start where more than 17,000 Soldiers and Airmen from 52 states and territories deployed to Arizona to support the U.S. Border Patrol.
- The Arizona National Guard experienced tremendous growth and prosperity under General Rataczak’s leadership at a time when most organizations were experiencing down-sizing. The Arizona Army National Guard grew more than 60 percent in size during his tenure, while the Arizona Air National Guard was awarded the coveted Predator and Space Missions. Both organizations have secured missions and infrastructure that will ensure the viability of the Arizona National Guard for generations to come.
During the signature event of this generation on Sept. 11, 2001, General Rataczak was in the Pentagon when it was attacked. He fortunately was uninjured but the events of that day would be at the center of the rest of his military career and would shape the future of the Arizona National Guard.
His major awards and decorations include the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Meritorious Service Medal (with 1 Oak Leaf Cluster), Air Medal (with 37 Oak Leaf Clusters), Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Master Army Aviator Badge, Armed Forces Reserve Medal, Army Reserve Component Achievement Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Vietnam Campaign Medal, Meritorious Unit Citation and Arizona Medal of Valor.
Our 2017 Army service representative is Private First Class Ted VanDerVeer who served with the 84th Infantry Division, part of the American forces who took part in The Battle of The Bulge. Private VanDerVeer’s service began in 1941. After basic training he was sent to Lehi University to study engineering. He was shipped to infantry training when D-Day happened in June 1944 and was trained as a rifleman. After a summer of training, he sailed to England, crossed the Channel and landed at Omaha Beach five months after D-Day.
His division then went to the border of Holland and Germany to fight the Germans. A month later, December 15, 1944 Germany invaded Belgium. Ted’s division went on to the Ardennes forest and to fight in the Battle of the Bulge, remaining there until the end of January 1945. Ted was ordered home to America to train a division to invade Japan. Shortly thereafter came the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ending the war. Ted sailed into Boston harbor, went to Camp McCoy in Wisconsin briefly, and then received an honorable discharge in December of 1945.
After the Army, Ted graduated from the University of Minnesota. He went to a seminary for three years to study Theology and received a BA in Divinity. He and his wife went to Chicago where Ted, after four years, was awarded a Theological Doctorate. He served a ministry in Iowa, then Duluth and on to New York. He eventually found his way to Mesa. Ted has two daughters. He is a member of the Mesa Rotary Club and loves to golf and travel.
Serving as our 2017 Navy representative is Seaman Third Class Karl Nielson. Karl enlisted in the US Navy in 1943, at the age of 14. He served on the USS California, a Tennessee class battleship built shortly after World War I that served as the flagship of the Pacific fleet for 20 years. The California had just been refloated and reconstructed in 1942 after having been moored on Battleship Row in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 where she was sunk by two torpedoes.
As a Storekeeper Third Class, Neilson was assigned to a battle station with three 14” guns. His job was to load the shells into the breech and then add four 100-pound bags of gunpowder. Because of the impact of the guns when fired he lost his hearing. He served until 1946 when he was honorably discharged.
After the Navy, Karl returned to his native Arizona and ran several successful businesses in the East Valley, businesses that his daughter and her family continue to operate today. Karl has been an active member of the Mesa HoHoKams for over 50 years. The HoHoKams are a group of civic volunteers dedicated to Major League Baseball Spring Training in Mesa, hosting spring training for the Chicago Cubs and the Oakland Athletics. They raise funds for local charities and kids’ sports, having donated more than $1,000,000 to these causes since 2000.
Joining us as the 2016 Marine Corps representative is Captain Thomas W. Meaker. While in college Thom joined the Unites States Marine Corps Platoon Leaders Class and after graduation went to The Basic School at Quantico, Virginia. Upon completion of his officers training he served as a platoon leader and then company commander of Mike Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines, 3rd Marine Division from November 1968 until January 1970. The company conducted operations in Vietnam assigned to the Northern I Corps area. While with Mike Company he received the Bronze Star with Combat V, Purple Heart, Navy Commendation with Combat V and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry.
Upon completion of his tour, he was assigned to Camp Lejeune where he served in the Public Affairs office. He was released from active duty in January 1971 at the rank of Captain. Thom has been involved in veteran affairs serving 8 years on the Phoenix VA Veterans Day Parade committee. He is a charter member of the Veterans Medical Leadership Council a support group for the Carl T. Hayden Medical Center and the Arizona Veterans Home. He is a member of the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation and served as co-chair of the 2013 Arizona Campaign.
A lifelong Phoenix resident, Thom’s roots are deep in the Arizona soil. A graduate of Phoenix Christian High, he attended California State Poly at San Luis Obispo receiving a BS in Engineering in 1968. Returning to Phoenix after the Marine Corps, Thom and his father Al ran Meaker The Printer, a commercial printing company until 2001. Through mergers and acquisitions. he is now with Capitol Litho in Phoenix. Thom continues to be active in his community as a member and volunteer with a number of organizations. He lives in Laveen, Arizona with his wife Lorrie, Wrangler Susie the Wonder Horse, 3 chickens and 2 rescue dogs.
Our 2017 Air Force Representative is Capital George F. Bliss, III. George entered the U.S. Air Force Academy to study Civil Engineering. While at the Academy, Spike as he was known to his fellow cadets, excelled at academics. He was active in a number of extracurricular activities, including Honor Guard, golf, tennis and folk singing. Graduating with a BS in Engineering in 1967, Captain Bliss was stationed at SAMSO (Space and Missile Systems Org.) at the Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo where he was a Project Manager working on advanced space-based weapons systems.
After leaving the Air Force, George joined the firm of William L. Pereira Associates, a world renowned architectural and planning practice. At the same time, he earned his Master’s Degree in Planning from USC. His career in Southern California is an impressive CV of planning, design, real estate, management and marketing projects throughout the US and overseas.
In 1995, George returned to his home state of Arizona. He was a founding member of Keller Williams Integrity First Realty, co-owner of Central Arizona Real Estate Specialists, and in early 2015, he formed Bliss Realty & Investments, a real estate brokerage and development firm in Mesa. He is active in the community, serving on the Boards of the Mesa Public Safety Foundation, Mesa Chamber of Commerce, Mesa Family YMCA, Oakwood Creative Care, and the Veterans’ Medical Leadership Council, as well as being a member of the Mesa HoHoKams. He has certainly embraced his 1967 Academy Class Motto: “Ad Vita Ipsa Justavit”, meaning “To A Life Which Justifies Itself”
Joining us as the 2017 Coast Guard representative is Chief Boatswain’s Mate Ryan R. Parsons. BMC Parsons currently serves as the Recruiter in Charge of Coast Guard Recruiting Office Phoenix, AZ. He is a native of Benton, Arkansas and graduated from the United States Coast Guard Training Center in Cape May, NJ in December 2001. BMC Parsons has been assigned to operational tours both at sea and ashore, conducting missions to support maritime safety, security, and environmental stewardship interests of the Nation. During his years of service Chief Boatswain’s Mate Parsons has served aboard Coast Guard Cutter Chena in Hickman, KY, CGC Spar in Kodiak, AK, Coast Guard Station Maui, HI, Coast Guard Station Gulfport, MS, and Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Team Corpus Christi, TX where he served as the Executive Petty Officer.
His awards include the Coast Guard Commendation Medal with “O” device, Coast Guard Achievement Medal with “O” device with 2 gold stars, Commandant’s Letter of Commendation Ribbon with “O” device, Coast Guard Good Conduct Medal with 3 bronze stars, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Coast Guard Special Operations Service Ribbon, and Coast Guard Sea Service Ribbon. He also proudly wears the Coast Guard Coxswain Insignia and Boat Force Operations Gold and pewter Tone Insignia.
Chief Parsons enjoys spending time with his family and out in the woods hunting. He also enjoys tinkering in the garage on various projects such as rebuilding his Jeep. He is married to the Miss Allyson Kate Parsons of Benton, Arkansas and they are the proud parents of Miss Lillyan Kate Parsons.