You won’t get the day off work, your children still have to go to school, and many won’t even stop to pause and reflect or even think about all of the sacrifices that were made for their freedom. However, each year on the third Friday in September many will. Prisoner of War/Missing in Action (POW/MIA) Day is not a “holiday” to be celebrated, but a day of remembrance; a day to remember all those that paid the ultimate price, or were held captive as prisoners of war.
According to the Department of Defense, (DOD) there are over 80,000 individuals unaccounted for from the Vietnam War and past conflicts. The majority are from WWII, with a staggering 73,536. Until 1979, there was no day to honor these heroic individuals. The first year, resolutions were passed in Congress and the first national ceremony was held in Washington, DC. The first “Missing Man Formation” was flown at Langley AFB, Virginia. National POW/MIA Recognition Day legislation was introduced in 1995, and ceremonies are now held throughout the nation. The Missing Man Table and Honor Ceremony is one of them ,and this humble ceremony goes as follows:
As you entered the room, you may have noticed a special table; it is reserved to honor our missing men.
Set for six, the empty chairs represent Americans who were or are missing from each of the services – Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard – and civilians, all with us in spirit.
The table is round – to show our everlasting concern.
The cloth is white – symbolizing the purity of their motives when answering the call to serve.
The single red rose reminds us of the lives of these Americans….and their loved ones and friends who keep the faith, while seeking answers.
The red ribbon symbolizes our continued determination to account for them.
A slice of lemon reminds us of the bitter fate of those captured and missing in a foreign land.
A pinch of salt symbolizes the tears of our missing and their families who long for answers after decades of uncertainty.
The lighted candle reflects our hope for their return – alive or dead.
The Bible represents the strength gained through faith in our country, founded as one nation under God, to sustain those lost from our midst.
The glass is inverted – to symbolize their inability to share a toast.
The chairs are empty – they are missing……………..
Let us now raise our water glasses in a toast to honor America’s POW/MIAs, to the success of our efforts to account for them, and to the safety of all now serving our Nation!
I was appalled when I read that an Air Force base removed their Missing Man table from their dining hall because there was a Bible on the table. I think it was best summed up by U.S. Rep. John Fleming, R-LA, who also took issue with the removal: “Since when does one unnamed, unknown individual have veto power over the First Amendment rights of all people in the military and in this case the Air Force? The inclusion of the Bible has nothing to do with the faith of those using the dining facilities. It’s symbolic of the faith of those missing or imprisoned, and the faith of their loved ones that those missing will return. In such situations, faith is all we have.”
We fly the POW/MIA flag to ensure that as Americans we remember our responsibility to stand behind those who serve our Nation, and do everything possible to account for those who do not return. Lest we forget!
By: Sandra Thompson, Director, Alabama Veterans’ Museum