Recently, I attended a veterans recognition event during which the hosts conducted a POW/MIA ceremony that I won’t soon forget.
I had never seen this tribute done before, and so when the emcee directed the audience to look at the solitary table with a single place setting that had been set up on stage and began to solemnly read the following script, every one of the more than 250 people in the room, including me, fell silent and became mesmerized by his words:
We call your attention to this small table, which occupies a place of dignity and honor. It is set for one, symbolizing the fact that some are missing from our ranks. They are referred to as POWs and MIAs.
We call them comrades.
They are unable to be with their loved ones and families tonight, so we join together to pay our humble tribute to them, and bear witness to their continued absence.
- This table, set for one, is small, symbolizing the frailty of one prisoner, alone against his or her suppressors.
- The tablecloth is white, symbolic of the purity of their intentions to respond to their country’s call to arms.
- The single red rose in the vase signifies the blood that many have shed in sacrifice to ensure the freedom of our beloved United States of America. This rose also reminds us of the family and friends of our missing comrades who keep the faith, while awaiting their return.
- The ribbon on the vase represents the ribbons worn on the lapels of the thousands who demand with unyielding determination a proper accounting of our comrades who are not among us tonight.
- A slice of lemon on the plate reminds us of their bitter fate.
- The salt sprinkled on the plate reminds us of the countless fallen tears of families as they wait.
- The glass is inverted – they cannot toast with us at this time.
- The chair is empty – they are not here.
- The candle is reminiscent of the light of hope, which lives in our hearts to illuminate their way home, away from their captors, to the open arms of a grateful nation.
Let us pray to the supreme commander that all of our comrades will soon be back within our ranks.
Let us remember and never forget their sacrifices.
May God forever watch over them and protect them and their families.
Throughout this ceremony, standing at attention next to the table was a U.S. Marine who ever so slowly raised his hand in salute as those words were read, and then just as slowly and deliberately, lowered his salute so that his arm was down by his side as the ceremony came to a close.
When it was over, there was not a sound in the room. I wiped away some tears from my eyes and looked around to see several other people doing the same—men and women, service members and civilians, alike.
It was a moving and memorable message for all of us to never forget our brave service members who may still be in harm’s way as prisoners of war or who have been declared missing in action—their loved ones not knowing their fate.
This Thanksgiving, I will be blessed to be able to sit down at a crowded dinner table surrounded by family and friends—the people I hold most dear. You may also be one of the fortunate ones to have your family close by to envelop you in love. For those families who may have a POW/MIA family member or an active-duty service member who is currently serving our country and cannot be home for the holidays, let us honor them by keeping them in our hearts. Let us set our own “table for one” in remembrance and tribute.