Recently, we were on a military base for a reunion of Vietnam pilots. At the formal dinner, a lone table was set, apart from all the other tables. Next to the table were caps from each branch of service. Before the dinner began, there was a ceremony to explain the significance of this table, a table set aside to memorialize the missing. The solemn and reverent words of this ceremony–listed below–detail each layer of those soldiers’ commitment, valor and sacrifice.
As Memorial Day is the time we remember our fallen, please take a moment to read and think about each of the statements below, recognizing and appreciating the real cost of our freedom.
(From the Military Chapel Organization.)
Please be seated ……. I would like to explain the meaning of the items on this special table.
The table is round — to show our everlasting concern for our missing men.
The tablecloth is white — symbolizing the purity of their motives when answering the call to duty.
The single red rose, displayed in a vase, reminds us of the life of each of the missing, and their loved ones and friends of these Americans who keep the faith, awaiting answers.
The vase is tied with a red ribbon, symbol of our continued determination to account for our missing.
A slice of lemon on the bread plate is to remind us of the bitter fate of those captured and missing in a foreign land.
A pinch of salt symbolizes the tears endured by those missing and their families who seek answers.
The Bible represents the strength gained through faith to sustain those lost from our country, founded as one nation under God.
The glass is inverted — to symbolize their inability to share this evening’s toast.
The chairs are empty — they are missing.
When doing research on this I found another description of the items at the table that I thought added some to the original.
The listed symbolic items are considered traditional. Some commands and units may place head covers or other items at the place setting as well.
- Table: set for one, is small, symbolizing the frailty of one isolated prisoner or lost soldier. The table is usually set close to, or within sight of, the entrance to the dining room. For large events of the Missing Man Table is set for six places: members of the five armed services (Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard) and a sixth place setting reminiscent of the civilians who died during service alongside the armed forces or missing during armed conflict . Table is round to represent everlasting concern on the part of the survivors for their missing loved ones.
- Tablecloth is white, symbolic of the purity of their intentions to respond to their country’s call to arms.
- 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 comrades who keep the faith, while awaiting their return.
- Yellow ribbon on the vase represents the yellow 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.
- Slice of lemon on the bread plate: represents the bitter fate of those missing or lost in battle.
- Salt sprinkled on the bread plate: symbolic of the countless fallen tears of families as they wait or mourn their loss.
- Inverted glass: represents the fact that the missing and fallen cannot partake.
- Lit candle: 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.
- Empty chair: the missing and fallen aren’t present.
- The Bible represents the strength gained through faith to sustain those lost from our country, founded as one nation under God.
THANK YOU TO THE FAMILIES OF ALL THOSE WHO HAVE SERVED AND GAVE THE ULTIMATE SACRIFICE. PLEASE KNOW THAT YOUR LOVED ONCE HAVE OUR HIGHEST RESPECT AND APPRECIATION. Roy and Rosalyn Chauvin