Recognition ceremony recalls POW/MIA
by W. Winston Skinner
National POW/MIA Recognition Day was observed in Newnan Friday with the traditional Empty Table ceremony.
Prior to the ceremony at Veterans Memorial Plaza, some of the organizers expressed dissatisfaction with posters promoting this year’s event which omit the Bible from the table. A Bible was included — as has been typical — in the ceremony held locally.
Alvin Hugh Harris Post 57, American Legion holds the observance each year. Newnan Mayor Keith Brady and Coweta County Administrator Michael Fouts read proclamations for the day, and veteran John Lager served as master of ceremonies.
The Empty Table ceremony uses a round table with a white tablecloth and set with symbolic elements. A Bible “has always been here,” Lager said as the group of about 25 began to gather.
“We’ll continue to put it there,” said G. D. Hendrix, another veteran who works with the program each year.
“I do think it’s a shame that the Bible is left off” the promotional poster, said Hendrix, who has served as national chaplain for the Sons of the American Legion. “We say we’re for God and country, but it’s like we’re leaving God’s word off.”
Each element on the table represents something. The Bible represents the strength gained — through faith — to sustain those lost. The table’s shape stands for everlasting concern for those missing, and the white tablecloth is a tribute to the purity of the motives of those answering the call to service.
A single red rose in a vase is a reminder of each life of the missing and of their loved ones who keep the faith. A red ribbon is tied around the vase, a symbol of continued determination to account for everyone.
On each plate is a slice of lemon, representing the bitterness of captivity, and salt, symbolizing tears.
The table is set with six plates — for the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard and civilians. Glasses are inverted because the missing cannot toast with those present for the ceremony.
The candle stands for the light of hope — and as a guide for those coming home. An American flag conveys that many have paid the supreme sacrifice and will never return. Finally, the chairs are empty because people from the six groups are still missing.
“This is an important day,” Lager said. He said there are still 83,000 Americans listed as POW/MIA. That includes 73,000 from World War II, 7,900 from the Korean War, 126 from the Cold War, 1,657 from Vietnam and six from Iraq and other recent conflicts.
Local veteran Dick Stender said he recently watched a television special about missing children. Mothers of missing youngsters were interviewed for the program, and each said she wakes each morning thinking “Is my child coming home today?”
Mothers of prisoners of war have that same experience. “The worst telegram you can get is MIA. There’s no closure,” Stender said.
“There are a lot of mothers, families in this country who still do not have closure,” Stender said. “It is our mission to never let our government — and each other — forget.”
Lager said more and more communities are flying the black-and-white POW/MIA flag on the date for the annual observance. “It makes me proud Coweta County and the City of Newnan are not among those left behind,” he said.
Brady spoke of the sacrifice of “those who faced imprisonment by our nation’s enemies” and said the POW/MIA flag represents “a powerful commitment” to remember and account for the missing.
Lager said military forensic teams have worked diligently and identified remains “from all wars in recent years” giving “peace and some measure of comfort to POW/MIA families.”
Fouts spoke of “the fullest possible accounting.” Stender said, “We’ve got to do all we can to bring it about.”
“They will not be forgotten,” Brady said.