Monday, October 17, 2011

Beach Tale: Missing Man Table

          It’s that time of year…Navy Birthday Ball!  And thanks to the 7th wonder of the modern fashion world—Spanks—I will be looking svelte in my ball gown this weekend .  The United States Navy will be celebrating its 236th birthday, but it’s not all one big drinking/dining/dancing party.  The Navy Ball, as well as many other official military dining events throughout the year, serve as a reminder to the POWs and MIAs who yet to return home.  This is done through the Missing Man POW/MIA table set at the front of the room. 
For those of you who have never attended any formal military dinner, you may not be familiar with the tradition.  Since it is easy to “forget” our POWs and MIAs, this ceremony reminds you to “remember.”  It’s a very moving and very visual tribute.    
You will note in the picture of the Missing Man table it is a small round bistro-style covered in a crisp white cloth.  It holds a single place setting of white china.  It has a wine glass inverted above the knife.  It also has a salt shaker, a slice of lemon on a bread plate with a pile of spilled salt, a small bud vase with a single stem red rose and a red ribbon tied around the vase.  It has one candle in the center, lit, and an empty chair tilted against the table.  And there is one bell.  Prior to the guests enjoying their own meal, a moderator explains the significance of each item as a white-gloved uniformed member of the service points out the items.  Here is what is said:
”As you entered the banquet hall this evening, you may have noticed a small table in a place of honor.  It is set for one.  This table is our way of symbolizing the fact that members of our profession of arms are missing from our midst.  They are commonly called POWs or MIAs; we call them ‘Brothers.’  They are unable to be with us this evening and so we remember them.
          “This table set for one is small, symbolizing the frailty of one prisoner alone against his oppressors.  Remember!”  (The bell is rung one time.)
          “The tablecloth is white—symbolizing the purity of their intentions to respond to their country’s call to arms.  Remember!”  (The bell is rung one time.) 
          “The single red rose displayed in a vase reminds us of the families and loved ones of our comrades-in-arms who keep the faith awaiting their return.  Remember!”  (The bell is rung one time.)
          "The red ribbon tied so prominently on the vase is reminiscent of the red ribbon worn upon the lapel and breasts of thousands who bear witness to their unyielding determination to demand a proper accounting of our missing.  Remember!”  (The bell is rung one time.) 
          “The candle, the candle is lit—symbolizing the upward reach of their unconquerable spirit.  Remember!”  (The bell is rung one time.) 
          “A slice of lemon is on the bread plate to remind us of their bitter fate.  Remember!”  (The bell is rung one time.) 
          "There is salt upon the bread plate—symbolic of the families’ tears as they wait.  Remember!”  (The bell is rung one time.) 
          "The glass is inverted—they cannot toast with us this night.  Remember!”  (The bell is rung one time.) 
          “The chair—the chair is empty.  They are not here.  Remember!”  (The bell is rung one time.) 
          “Remember!  All of you who served with them and called them comrades, who depend upon their might and aid, and relied upon them, for surely they have not forsaken you.  Remember!”  (The bell is rung one time.) 
          “Remember!  Until the day they come home, Remember!”  (The bell is rung one time.) 


Anonymous said...

I had never heard of this, but what a touching tradition. I always feel so sorry for the families of MIA soldiers. I'm sure they know the fate of their loved one, but not having tangible proof leaves so many questions.

PJ Sharon said...

Hauntingly beautiful, Jayne. Thanks for posting this.

Patricia said...

So sad and meaningful and wonderful that they are remembered in such a fashion. I've never heard of this and it really is touching.

Julie Glover said...

Oh my goodness, I teared up reading this. I think it is important to remember our POWs and MIAs. I can't imagine what their families go through not knowing what happened. Thank you for sharing this tradition with us, Jayne.

Jayne Ormerod... said...

Thanks Catie, PJ, Patricia and Julie for taking the time to read and comment, and to everyone else reading. I thought the story was strong enough on its own do didn't add my personal experiences, but I've witnessed this ceremony about a dozen times now, and it never fails to to bring tears to my eyes. You have never heard a ballroom so quiet as when this ceremony is performed. Seriously, you can hear a cotton ball drop. Just the voice of the speaker and the soft ringing of the bell. It is emotional, to say the least.

Christine Ashworth said...

Oh my. Started the day off with tears. Thanks for this - so moving.

Jennette Marie Powell said...

Lovely tribute, Jayne. Every AMVETS post has a missing man table, that they leave set up all the time (at least ours does). I didn't know the whole story until my husband filled me in, but I haven't seen it in the ceremony yet. It does make you remember - and appreciate - the sacrifices of the men and women in our armed forces.

Donna Coe-Velleman said...

What a beautiful reminder. Thank you Jayne for sharing it with us.