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Monessen veteran honored for service to his community

| Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, 11:02 a.m.
Jim Ference
Steve Major of Monessen was recently presented with the William H. Markus Award of Excellence from the Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association.
Jim Ference
Steve Major of Monessen uses a model of a World War II bomber to discuss how he defused a bomb, a tale that was retold in a column by famed war correspondant Ernie Pyle.

Steve N. Major Sr. was recently honored for his service to his hometown of Monessen.

But service is nothing new for the World War II veteran who saw action in Northern Africa and Italy.

Major, past president and former board member of Mon Valley Sewage Authority, recently received the prestigious 2013 William H. Markus Award of Excellence from the Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association.

Major accepted the PMAA's highest annual award from a contingent of leaders from the organization's District Region 9 at a gathering at Ripepi Winery in Monongahela.

Major served as a sewage authority board member from 1981 through 2010. He was active on the statewide level, as a PMAA Region 9 director from 1991 through 1994 and assistant director from 1988 through 1001. Major became PMAA president in 2000.

Major began working as a plumber's apprentice while still in high school.

He left school to join the Army in early 1938, earning his GED while in the service.

After basic training at Edgewood Arsenal, he was assigned to the Sixth Field Artillery, a unit that used horse-drawn caissons to move field artillery.

He signed up to go to Panama, serving at Fort Amador. After two years there, he was discharged in late November 1941. But within days, Major went to Pittsburgh and enlisted in the Army Air Corps.

After spending time in the state of California, training new recruits on the basics of military life, Major was shipped aboard the Queen Mary on Sept. 5, 1942, to England.

Major's unit participated in the invasion of North Africa at Oran.

“I was an armament man,” Major said. “My job was to make sure the bombs were loaded properly, and everything was good with the weapons on the aircraft in my care.”

He participated in the Battle of the Kasserine Pass, then Malta and the invasion of Sicily in 1943, attached to the British Eighth Army. He also participated in the invasions of Naples and the Corsica and was assigned to go to the Pacific when the war ended.

Major, who served in the reserves for six years, was the subject a column by World War II correspondent and Pulitzer Prize winner Ernie Pyle.

One of Major's duties was to open the bomb bay and make sure that all of the bombs had been dropped during the mission.

As he checked a Douglas A-20 after one mission, a 110-pound bomb fell from the bomb bay. Major knew it either had an eight-to-11-second or a 45-second fuse. He defused the bomb, throwing the fuse away just as it popped.

Major was one of four men in the area at the time of the incident.

“If that thing had gone off, it would have killed us all,” Major said.

Word of his heroics spread and Pyle wrote about the incident in one of his daily columns, which were read nationwide.

It wasn't the only brush with death Major faced during the war.

He recalled being trapped with two other men in a foxhole during a German air raid and feeling something warm.

“I don't know how this British (soldier) got in that foxhole, but he had been hit by shrapnel and his blood was on my leg,” Major said.

Major said the next day, the squadron leader brought him a bottle of whiskey as a thank you for saving the life of his man.

Another time, Major was making a quick pot of coffee for the crew that was equipping a bomber for a mission. A fragment bomb went off, killing three.

“I picked up pieces of guys,” Majors grimly recalled.

He e spent 1948 and 1949 in Panama, working on a power plant.

Major worked for a contractor after the war, participating in the construction of the Basic Oxygen Furnace at the Monessen Plant of the then-Pittsburgh Steel.

He would later work at Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel for 20 years, retiring in 1983.

Major met his wife, Jean, at Spillway Lake. The couple was married for 44 years before she passed away in 1999. They had three daughters, Robin Betza of Gibsonia, Christy Tippet of Mars and Meg Kunitz of Cranberry and a son, Steven J. Major Jr. of Monessen.

He was working at the steel plant when then-Monessen Mayor Jim Sepesky appointed him the authority board.

“I had experience building sewerage plants, which was very beneficial to sewage authority,” Major said.

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or