Do You Know the Story of the Table Set for One?

Memorial Day remembers American soldiers who have died in service to their country. The Table For One is how the American Legion keeps the memory of those still missing alive.

Within the American Legion, each state has a position known as Department Commander.

It's elected position with a term of one year, where the Commander tours every post in the state to meet the members and other dignitaries. They also speak at different functions to raise awareness of, and promote programs that support the health and welfare of both veterans, and those actively serving: homeless vets, the VA budget, their medical facilities, and pending legislation.

It's a lot of work, but quite the honor to be voted into this position, and towards the end of the Commander's term of service, they are lauded at a Homecoming Dinner, given by their home post. Home post members, as well as Legion dignitaries, politicians, friends and family all attend, and it is a big deal. Last year, Doug and I were invited guests of New York State's retiring Commander, Jim Troiola.

Now-my dad served in the Coast Guard, but my contemporaries were too young for Viet Nam, and too old for subsequent engagements. While I'm certainly grateful to all those who now serve, or have served, I have neither experience of the sacrifices, or any familiarity with the traditions, so wasn't sure what to expect.

The hall was HUGE, and filled. The dias was long, directly opposite the entrance.  I immediately noticed a small table in front of, and slightly to the left of the dias. It contained a single place setting, a lone  candlestick, a single bud vase, with one perfect red rose in it, all set on a simple white tablecloth.

I thought it was the guest of honor's spot...perhaps this evening would be like a 'celebrity roast' that you see on TV?

The cocktail hour was in full swing, and we met a number of Jim's friends. Then, when the group was called to order, and the evening's program started, no one sat at that table. Within moments, we found out why.

For nearly 30 years now, every official Legion meeting is to have the empty chair and table for one set up, as a physical symbol of the thousands of American POWs/MIAs still unaccounted for from all the wars and conflicts involving the United States. It's a powerful image on its own, but here is the preamble that starts each meeting.

We call your attention to this small table, which occupies a place of dignity and honor near the head table.

It is set for one, symbolizing the fact that members of our armed forces are missing from our ranks. They are referred to as POWs and MIAs. We call them comrades.
They are unable to be with their loved ones and families tonight, so we join together to pay our humble tribute to them, and bear witness to their continued absence.

This table, set for one, is small, symbolizing the frailty of one prisoner, alone against his or her suppressors.
The tablecloth is white, symbolic of the purity of their intentions to respond to their country’s call to arms.

The single red rose in the vase signifies the blood they may 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 missing comrades who keep the faith, while awaiting their return. 

The 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.

A slice of lemon on the plate reminds us of their bitter fate. The salt sprinkled on the plate reminds us of the countless fallen tears of families as they wait.

The glass is inverted. They cannot toast with us this night. The chair is empty. They are not here.

The candle is 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.

Let us pray to the supreme commander that all our comrades will soon be back within our ranks. Let us remember and never forget their sacrifices. May God forever watch over them and protect them and their families.


If you did not know this story, you are not alone-please pass it on. 

And this upcoming weekend, in between all the other stuff, find a parade, and clap loudly.

Look for veterans selling the red paper poppies. Buy a bunch, wear yours proudly, and give the rest to friends. Made by disabled vets, they remind us of the past sacrifices of our veterans, with all proceeds going to supporting veterans and their families.  

Thank any you meet, and then, in a quiet moment, say a prayer of gratitude.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Nick Del Pizzo May 20, 2012 at 11:22 AM
Nyack Parade steps off at 11:00 am Monday, May 28th Memorial Day-Line -up is at 10:30 Am behind "Riverspace"-Parade route is east on Main St. south on Broadway, east on Depew Ave into Memorial Park, our beautiful riverside park founded as a memorial to 11 Nyack men lost in WW I-Following ceremonies ay the park, American Legion Post 310 host an "Open House" at Legion Hall, 85 Piermont Ave, adjacent to the Park-all are welcome-for more info call Nick Del Pizzo @ 358-6091
Mike May 20, 2012 at 12:50 PM
Thank you for reminding us all WHY we should remember and celebrate Memorial Day. To all the men and women of our Armed Services that are still alive, I thank you and salute you. To all those that have entered into eternal rest, I will forever be greatful for your sacrifice and always honor your memory. Thank God for all of you and despite our troubling times and differences today, stop and thank God for allowing us to live in the greatest land ever known to ANY people in the course of human history, The United States of America.
Nancy and Nick-thank you very much for sharing this info. Mike-what a beautiful tribute. So important to take the time to recognize, and reflect on the sacrifices made.
Rochelle Odesser May 22, 2012 at 05:13 PM
Thank you for telling this story. I did not know about this custom and am grateful for the sacrifice of others and to be a part of this nation. It is an important reminder of what this day is about.
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