By Melanie Lekocevic
Capital Region Independent Media
COEYMANS — Never forget those who put their lives on the line and who remain lost to us.
That was the message members of the auxiliary of Ravena VFW Post 9594 had for the community when they conducted a ceremony to remember prisoners of war and troops who remain missing in action.
VFW Post 9594 Auxiliary member Helen Barber conducted the ceremony, with a pair of auxiliary members placing each symbolic item on the table.
“The ceremony is rich with military tradition as well as honor for those men and women of our armed forces who, in defense of the freedoms of our country, and that of the free world, are unaccounted for and are classified as prisoners of war and missing in action,” Barber said. “At all military functions, we present this honor.”
The ceremony, held Thursday at the start of the town board meeting, featured a table, known as the Missing Man Table, that was set in a ceremonial and symbolic fashion.
“This table is set for our prisoners of war and those missing in action from all wars. They are not with us this evening,” Barber said. “The table is round to show our concern for them is never ending. The tablecloth is white, symbolizing the purity of their intentions to respond to their country’s call to arms.”
Barber called on spectators to remember prisoners of war and those missing in action from all branches of the military service — the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard.
“Let us remember the men and women, prisoners of war, from all branches of service that are too often forgotten,” Barber implored. “Let us remember them all.”
Each item placed on the table by a pair of auxiliary members symbolized the lost and missing.
“The lone candle symbolizes the frailty of a prisoner alone trying to stand up against his oppressors,” Barber said. “The yellow candle and the yellow ribbon on the candle remind us of those who will not be coming home. The yellow ribbon at the base of the candle is our continued uncertainty, our hope for their return, and the determination for us to account for them.”
A red rose on the table serves as a reminder of the loved ones and troops who remember the lost and await their return, and a red ribbon on the rose represents the love of country that inspired them to join the military. A black napkin symbolizes the emptiness that remains in the hearts of the families and friends of the missing and prisoners of war.
“A slice of lemon is on the bread plate to remind us of their bitter fate if we do not bring them home and there is salt on the plate, a symbol of the family’s tears,” Barber said. “The Bible represents the strength gained through faith to sustain those that have been lost from our country.”
A faded picture is also placed on the table to symbolize how much the person is missed and remembered, and a glass is inverted to show the individual cannot share in a toast at this time, but perhaps in the future.
“As we look upon this empty table, do not remember the ghosts from the past, but remember our comrades,” Barber said. “An empty tilted chair depicts an unknown face representing no specific soldier, sailor, airman, Marine or Coast Guardsman, but are all here with us this evening. Remember our friends — they are the ones we love, who love life and freedom, as do we. They will remember what we do.”
Auxiliary member Cindy Rowzee has participated in the ceremony several times and said she has been moved each time.
“Witnessing the empty chair at the table is such a moving reminder of those who served but never returned home,” Rowzee said. “These soldiers should never be forgotten and this annual ceremony is a significant reminder of this.”
Rowzee, who is a trained genealogist, has worked under contract with the military to find family members to aid in the identification of troops’ remains.
“In the past I searched out soldiers’ relatives for the military so that remains could be identified through DNA,” Rowzee said. “In doing this I was able to help many soldiers, especially from the Korean War, be laid to rest with their family. This ceremony stands as a reminder to me that there are always more that need to find their way home.”
The ceremony was concluded with the playing of taps by John Vasto.