One table to remember all

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Mackenzie Richardson
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Within every military dining facility, during every military event and where veterans can be found walking the halls, one can often find a table with a single place setting.

The round table is covered by a white cloth, a single empty chair sits beside it. The traditional lone place setting honors our prisoners of war and those missing in action since the Vietnam War. As of Aug. 15, Americans unaccounted for in Southeast Asia total 1,604.

“At the end of the Vietnam War, despite the return of 591 prisoners of war during Operation Homecoming, there were still 2,626 service members listed as unaccounted for,” said Cali Alba, 92nd Air Refueling Wing historian. “Both the POW flag and Missing Man Table help to honor the promise listed at the bottom of the flag, ‘You Are Not Forgotten.’”

Each item that graces the Missing Man Table holds a special meaning, helping people to always remember our brothers and sisters in arms. The importance of the table is shared in nearly every military event script, drawing attention to each intentional detail.

The table is round, to show everlasting concern for the missing men and women. The table cloth is white, symbolizing the purity of their motives when answering the call of duty.

A single red rose displayed in a vase reminds people of the life of each of the missing loved ones and the Americans who keep the faith, awaiting answers. The vase is tied with a red ribbon, a symbol of continued determination to account for the missing.

“The Missing Man Table is an important symbolic gesture to show we will never forget any comrade,” said Steve Campbell, Veterans of Foreign War Post 5206 member and American Legion member. “It is a way to show everyone we will not forget them and we will always work to bring everyone home.”

A slice of lemon on a bread plate symbolizes 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. A single glass is inverted, to symbolize that the distinguished comrades cannot drink a toast or join in the celebration.

An empty chair depicts an unknown face, representing no specific Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine, but all who are still unaccounted for.

“It is the task of the men and women who work for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency to help keep the nation’s promise to leave no man behind, as they search for and identify the remains of mission service members from not only the Vietnam War but also World War II and the Korean conflict,” Alba said.

Although no one can trace back the origin of the first Missing Man Table, the meaning and tradition is not lost among the thousands of Vietnam War veterans alive today and the families of those who remain missing.