East Valley Comes Together To Honor Veterans - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

East Valley Comes Together To Honor Veterans

November 6th, 2018 SanTan Sun News
East Valley Comes Together To Honor Veterans

Santan Sun News Staff

The East Valley’s biggest tribute to veterans will be held Nov. 12 when the East Valley Veterans Parade marches in Mesa.

Each year, residents of East Valley communities come together to celebrate the service and sacrifices of veterans, members of the active military and their families at the East Valley Veterans Parade. More than 2,000 parade participants march, play, drive or ride in the parade as their tribute to past and present service members.

Participants at the 2018 East Valley Veterans Parade will notice a familiar yet new face looking at them from signs and floats – a bald man sporting a large nose and peering over the top of a wall.

That’s the face of Kilroy, the iconic graffiti character who came to popularity during World War II. Next to his image is usually found the phrase, “Kilroy Was Here,” which quickly became synonymous with the service, dedication and commitment of U.S. Armed Forces.

Kilroy is possibly the first viral meme, long before there was even such a thing as social media. Throughout every combat, training or occupation operation during WWII and the Korean War, Kilroy always got there first and left last.

His simple outline caught the imagination of GIs wherever they went. While his true origin is debated, many historians agree that the saying most likely came from a worker at a shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts.

James A. Kilroy was a rivet inspector, paid by the number of rivets he checked and recorded each day with chalk marks on the machinery itself. To make sure no one else tried to take credit for his work, he began inscribing “Kilroy was here” onto the machinery.

Ships were desperately needed during WWII, so most were put into service before the workers’ marks were painted over. American GIs began noticing the phrase scrawled on outgoing ships, often tucked into hard-to-reach areas.

GIs began tagging the places they visited in war theaters in Europe, Asia and Africa. They attached the character drawing with the saying sometime early in the war, probably based on a popular English cartoon.

It quickly became a competition to place Kilroy in the most unusual places, including top-secret military installations, bases and battlefields. Every surface imaginable became an opportunity to draw this simple cartoon.

The original cartoons were drawn with whatever could be found at hand, from chalk to pencil to pen, and provided encouragement and comfort to embattled soldiers.

Today, you can find Kilroy etched in stone in two places near the Pennsylvania pillar of the WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C. reminding veterans that Kilroy is still with GIs when they are in harm’s way.

Grand Marshal named

Lester “Les” Gray, Jr. has been selected as the parade’s 2018 Grand Marshal. He was selected for his outstanding military service in World War II and in the Korean War.

Born in 1922, Gray joined the Navy V-5 program when WWII broke out, and was called into active duty in 1942. Ensign 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, recording his first victory. Then, on June 11, 1944, Gray left the Enterprise on mission in support of the invasion of Saipan and immediately destroyed an aircraft Oscar. Flying on between Saipan and Tinian, he completed two more strikes to make his triple.

He was later assigned to the Intrepid, returning the Pacific Theater, where as lieutenant, he became a “flying ace,” recording five or more enemy downings in April 1945 when he downed two Zekes while flying a combat air patrol north of Okinawa.

After the war, Gray was released to inactive duty but remained in the reserves. He worked in the decorating business until he was recalled to active duty during the Korean War. He flew F4Us off the Tarawa in 1951, spending nine months in the Mediterranean before returning to the States.

He served as an instructor for Training Command before requesting release to inactive duty in December 1955 and serving as a senior technical writer for Temco Aircraft and Goodyear Aerospace until taking early retirement in 1973 to open Arizona Divers Supply. He sold the business in 1985 to fully retire.

Other honored veterans

Gray is the proud recipient of two Distinguished Flying Crosses and five Air Medals. He is joined in the parade by service marshals:

• Army — Loyd Boyd, who served at Ft. Huachuca during World War II, in an era where he faced issues of segregation in the military, as well as in his hometown neighborhood in Mesa.

• Navy – Carey Slade, who served as a Builder Second Class in the Navy Seabees. She is the Commander of DAV-East Valley Chapter 8.

• Marines – Gary Rood, a Vietnam Vet and Silver Star recipient for bravery resulting from his actions in Operation Utah in 1966.

• Coast Guard – Wes Burns, a member of the Coast Guard for 20 years, still currently in the reserves.

• Air Force — Roger Parrish, a retired USAF Col. who flew 137 combat missions in Vietnam and a former Thunderbird Commander.

The guest of honor is Florence native Adolfo Celaya, who over 73 years ago was recovering from the worst Naval tragedy in history. Nicknamed “Harpo,” Celaya enlisted in the U.S. Navy the day he turned 17. He was on board the Indianapolis when it was struck in the Philippine Sea by two Japanese missiles in World War II.

The Indianapolis is known for delivering the world’s first operational atomic bomb on July 26, 1945. Several days later, it was sunk by the missiles just after midnight. Celaya was sleeping on the deck when the explosions came. “You hardly had any time to think,” says Celaya. “When I woke up … I just ran to the back and everybody seemed to be on fire.”

Celaya had burns from the massive fire ball. His best friend on board urged him to get off the boat. He followed him into the ocean and swam away from the ship as fast as possible. “When I jumped off, we were probably about, I would say, two stories high.”

It took just 12 minutes for the Indianapolis to sink completely. With no life jacket and very few life rafts, Celaya hung on through several cold nights and fiercely hot days before being rescued. He could only sleep if someone else kept him above the surface to prevent him from ingesting sea water.

In all, three out of every four sailors on board the Indianapolis died. He was one of just 317 survivors.

When he returned to the States, Celaya re-enrolled in school and played on the Florence High School’s basketball team. “It helped me a lot to come back to school,” he notes, because it helped with his PTSD from the experience. A post office in his hometown was later named in his honor.

“At that time in Tucson, they had pictures outside that said, ‘Join the Navy and see the world,’ and they had girls,” Adolfo “Harpo” Celaya said. “There were girls at every port and stuff like that, which I never got to see anyways.”

Two of this year’s parade entries – College Bound and Bridging AZ – are pleased to join in this celebration of service and to represent some of the many ways our East Valley communities care for their neighbors’ needs.

A parade entry since 2014, College Bound is a nonprofit organization that helps low-income youth ages 14-25 achieve their goal of a brighter future through education.

Bridging AZ, participating in the parade for its third year, is Arizona’s first Furniture Bank, providing basic furniture and household items to families in need.

Since its founding in 2004 by Air Force veteran Jim Piscopo and his wife Donna, more than 260,000 items have been distributed to help more than 60,000 people, without any government funding.

Last year, Bridging AZ created a full wood workshop out of four 40-foot shipping containers in order to engage veterans in woodworking. The organization helps 200 to 300 veterans every year.

“In this year’s parade, veterans we serve, our staff and volunteers will walk in the parade walking with several mini floats featuring the parade theme ‘Kilroy Was Here,” says Piscopo. “It feels like a big ‘Thank You.’”