National POW/MIA Recognition Day was established in 1979 by a proclamation signed by President Jimmy Carter. Since then, each subsequent president has continued the tradition, commemorating the third Friday in September as National POW/MIA Recognition Day.
A national ceremony is held on every National POW/MIA Recognition Day at the Pentagon featuring members of each branch of military service and the participation of high-ranking officials.
In addition to the national ceremony, many observances of National POW/MIA Recognition Day can be found across the country on military installations, ships at sea, state capitols, schools, veterans’ facilities, homes, and private businesses.
No matter where they are held, these National POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremonies share the common purpose of honoring those held captive and returned, and those who remain missing.
According to the Department of Defense, approximately 83,114 Americans are still missing today.
In past years, I have seen Missing Man Honors tables set up in restaurants I have visited on this day. It never fails to bring a lump to my throat.
Missing Man Honors
Let me take a moment to explain the significance of the Missing Man Honors to those who may not understand. This is how the table is typically set at military and veteran clubs, and private businesses and homes.
The tables I have seen are typically set for one, with the single empty chair representing all missing American servicemembers. It will sometimes be done with a setting for six, with each chair representing the missing Americans from each of the services, including the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and civilian.
There is great symbolism in how the table is set.
The table is round to symbolize our everlasting concern.
The table cloth is white and represents the purity of motive in answering the call to serve.
A single red rose is placed on the table to remind us of the lives of these Americans and their friends and loved ones who keep the faith.
The yellow ribbon represents our continued uncertainty, hope for their return, and determination to account for them.
A slice of lemon reminds us of their bitter fate, captured or missing in a foreign land.
A pinch of salt symbolizes the tears of the missing and their families.
The lighted candle reflects our hope for their return.
The Bible represents the strength gained through faith to sustain us and those lost from our country, founded as one nation under God.
The glass is inverted, symbolizing their inability to share a toast.
The chair is empty … because these great Americans are missing.
Traditions such as these honor those who fought and sacrificed so Americans today can live in Freedom.
Freedom is such a precious gift, a gift paid for by blood during the American Revolution, the Civil War, World War I, World War II, and other conflicts.
Politics is for politicians. The American fighting men and women put the politics aside and just do their job. All Americans should remember the brave men and women who answered our nation’s call and served in defense of freedom, and it is especially important to remember those who have not yet come home.