BIG RUN — VFW Post 9044 and the Ladies Auxiliary held their annual ceremony recognizing and celebrating Veterans' Day on Sunday at the Big Run War Memorial.
The ceremony also commemorated the 65th anniversary of Big Run VFW Post 9044 and honored its four living charter members, Richard Ellenberger, Sherman Hollopeter, Robert Kerr and Eugene North.
The speaker for the evening was Jeff Soliday, who also spoke at the two organizations' recognition of POW/MIA Day earlier this year, which doubled as a commemoration of his late father, Jim Soliday.
While not himself a veteran, he grew up as a Navy dependent and was able to speak as someone who observed veterans throughout his life and continued to honor them throughout his adulthood, including
during his career at WPXZ, where he would close every show with a short speech honoring POW/MIAs.
He is currently employed by the U.S. Secret Service.
He spoke on the importance of Veterans' Day and of honoring those who have served.
"The actual definition of a veteran is 'a person who has served in a military force, especially one who has fought in a war,'" Soliday said.
"That just doesn't seem to describe our veterans properly to me. Many believe that we are defined by our actions or by what we do. I would add that we are better defined by what we are willing to do, even more than by what we have actually done.
"My sister gave me this definition, and I think it covers our veterans pretty well — whether active duty, retired, National Guard or reserve, a veteran is someone who at one point in their life wrote a blank check made payable to the United States of America for an amount up to and including their life."
Soliday said it was not enough, however, simply to recognize veterans one day each year on the prescribed holiday.
"While I am very glad that this is a national day of recognition for our veterans, to acknowledge them and their sacrifice only once a year is not enough," he said. "As I had mentioned on POW/MIA Day, there are always things that can be done and ways that we can show our thanks and appreciation ... Our veterans have given so much, and they continue to give. It is only right that we try to show true and sincere appreciation for them and for what they do. If less than 2 percent of our people can provide security, democracy and freedom to the rest of us, there is simply no excuse for the other 98 percent not to be able to give something back in return."
VFW Post 9044 Adjutant Bob Lott then added to Soliday's speech, recalling back to when he was a child and hearing of the death of the last Civil War veteran in the 1950s.
He also remembered being surrounded by World War I veterans and never really speaking to them, a fact that struck home for him when he heard of the death of the last one in the last several years.
He implored the younger members of the audience — and the older ones as well — to speak to the veterans that remain, from World War II and upward, and hear their stories while there is still time.
The winners of VFW's youth essay contests were also announced during the ceremony.
The first contest, Patriot's Pen, which is for grades 6-8 and involves a 300-400 word essay on a varying subject — this year's was "What would you say to the founding fathers?" — was won by Maggie Prutzal of Scotland Avenue, Punxsutawney, who was not present that evening.
The second contest, Voice of Democracy, is for students in grades 9-12. In addition to an essay, it also requires entrants to record what they have written so as to be judged on presentation as well. This year's subject was "Is the Constitution still relevant?" The winner was Alexis Young. The runner-up was Keaton Mohney.
Both winners will have the opportunity to go on to compete in district, state and national competitions.
The night also featured music from singers Rich Keller, Ken Felgar and Barb Keller and harmonica player Arlene Marie. The Big Run Scouts and members of the Jefferson County Honor Guard presented and retired the colors. Cindy Chambers sang the national anthem. Post Chaplain Gene McKee delivered the invocation and benediction.
The night closed out with a moment of silence for deceased service members and Gold Star parents, followed by the laying of the wreath, the eleven bells ceremony and the playing of Taps.