VFW ceremony honors former commander, commemorates POW/MIAs

BIG RUN — Big Run Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 9044 and the Ladies Auxiliary hosted an event on Saturday at the Big Run War Memorial to recognize National POW/MIA Recognition Day, as well as to commemorate the life of a fellow veteran: James E. Soliday.

In so doing, VFW unveiled a display dedicated to Soliday, which will now stand as a permanent fixture in the Big Run War Memorial.

"Jim Soliday was a man of action," said Post Commander James Pallone in his welcome address, "and tonight, Post 9044 looks at its missing comrade as 'missing in action.'"

After an invocation delivered by Post Chaplain Gene McKee and a performance of the national anthem by the American Legion Post 17 Concert Band, Pallone continued with a speech on the life Soliday led and the contribution he made to VFW.

Soliday, who passed away on April 1, 2012, first joined VFW Post 9044 on Aug. 30, 1996.

Soon after, he accepted the nomination for post commander, a position that he held until July 1, 2008, when Chuck Fellner stepped into the role and Soliday took up the mantle of senior vice commander.

Fellner, however, attended only one meeting before he was struck with
illness and subsequent death.

Soliday stepped back up into the command position again and held it for another six months. He then returned to serving as senior vice commander until the time of his passing.

Throughout the course of his VFW career, Soliday served two years as the Pennsylvania Department District 19 commander. At the time of his death, he was the District 19 chaplain.

"It's hard to imagine what Big Run VFW would look like today without Jim (Soliday's) leadership," Pallone said. "Many of our current-day members were recruited by Jim. He was always looking for one more and never bashful about asking someone to transfer from another post to Big Run."

Soliday was also involved in a wide variety of patriotic programs in the area within the last 16 years. He often laid it out, invited the guest speakers, printed the bulletins, advertised on radio, cable and newspaper and printed a certificate for everyone who took part in the programs.

"Today," Pallone said, "I'm happy to say that Big Run VFW has the reputation of having some of the best and most attended patriotic programs in the area. We are the only VFW post in District 19 that currently holds a Loyalty Day program and one of only a few to hold POW/MIA programs and Pearl Harbor Day programs. These were enhanced and continued through the leadership of Jim Soliday."

Soliday also served Post 9044 as post service officer, performing a lot of work for veterans in the community. He was part of getting the brick memorial for veterans placed out in front of the Big Run War Memorial.

He also put together the lists for the ten cemeteries where the organization placed flags on veterans' graves, among other services.

"Jim Soliday, we salute you and thank you for your service to our post and to the VFW," Pallone said.

Friends of Soliday also appeared at the ceremony to say a few words about their fallen comrade.

Bill Littlefield, who recently finished a term as VFW District 19 commander and has called Soliday a mentor, said, "I was proud to have him as chaplain my year as district commander."

"Jim was a man's man," he added. "You could tell he was a leader in the military, and his military bearing was wonderful."

"There aren't too many Americans, there aren't too many people of the patriotic nature of people and men like Jim Soliday," said Jim Whited, who is the pastor at the church that Soliday attended and was frequently called upon to speak at events in which Soliday was involved. "I rank him right up there with some of the best and most prominent military men in our nation, in our nation's history. He's the kind of a guy that our country's all about."

After the band played a few of Soliday's personal favorites, Pallone and Post Adjutant Bob Lott unveiled the display for Soliday's wife, Ruth Soliday, who had never seen it up until that moment.

The display was constructed free of charge by Bob Fisher, who was present for the unveiling.

The event was also a commemoration of American POWs and MIAs, past and present, in honor of National POW/MIA Recognition Day. The day is recognized on the third Friday of September every year.

Colonel Francis Romeo conducted the POW/MIA table ceremony, a process in which a table is set up with items signifying the meaning of POWs and MIAs in America, such as an upturned glass symbolizing the toast in which the missing individual cannot participate or an empty chair representing his or her absence.

Following the ceremony, Don Stinebiser, former VFW District 19 commander and current post quartermaster and adjutant in VFW Post 1424 in Marienville, spoke on the significance of American prisoners of war and those missing in action, whose fates have not yet been recorded.

"Today, we salute the men and women who serve and sacrifice to keep America free," he said. "We also recognize the families of the missing and those who continue to hope and pray for their loved ones that they may return someday from their wars."

After the speeches and a performance of the classic hymn "Amazing Grace," the Jefferson County Veterans Honor Guard took to the front of the memorial to conduct an eleven bells ceremony in honor of the prisoners and the missing.

The eleven bells ceremony, which originated with the Navy, is symbolic of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month — the time of the armistice that ended World War I. It is also conducted by many fire departments across the nation on Sept. 11.

The last speaker to take the stage was Jeff Soliday, the son of Jim Soliday.

"It means a lot to me and my family to be here and to have my father remembered in this way," he said.

He previously worked for WPXZ radio, where he always ended his show with a recognition of POWs and MIAs. He was frequently asked why. His answer is this: "Every person who has ever served this country deserves our respect and our gratitude, for every person who has ever served has given a great deal of themselves. But there are those who have given even more. Some of them are still giving."

He concluded with the statement that he once used to sign off his radio show: "I want to thank you for listening to me. I hope that you enjoy the rest of your day. Whatever you do, have fun, but play it safe. And as I leave you, as always, I am remembering our POWs and MIAs, and I hope that you will join me, so that those who never returned and so that the sacrifices that were made by all will never be forgotten."

The display in honor of James Soliday is now viewable at the Big Run War Memorial.

It contains a variety of memorabilia that previously belonged to Soliday and was donated by his family.

The memorial dinner and the display were both funded with memorial donations received by VFW upon request in Soliday's obituary.