I was scrolling through a friend's feed and stopped cold at a photograph of a simple place setting. White tablecloth. White candle. A plate with a slice of lemon and a bit of salt on the plate. The empty chair leans against the table.I cried. I'm crying again. It means so much. My son-in-law is a war veteran. I used to babysit him, and then he grew up and joined the Army when he was 18 and went to Iraq. My husband spent 20 years in the Air Force. He was in basic training on our first anniversary. I've been to one of those events with that place setting.
"The table is set with a white tablecloth, a
black napkin and white candle, and a plate with only a slice of lemon
and salt. An empty chair leans against the table.
The tradition, little known to the general public, of setting an empty
table with a white tablecloth in remembrance of prisoners of war and
those missing in action had its beginnings with a group of fighter pilots
who flew in Vietnam.
But what was started by the Red River Valley Fighter Pilots
Association — the so-called River Rats of Vietnam — has, during the
intervening years, spread to other branches of the military where
remembrance tables, or so-called missing man tables, are set when
units or commands gather for dinners or reunions."
Read more here.
America's White Table tells about the custom in picture book form.
I was a young military wife, barely three years into our military life. We were overseas on island in Japan where every branch of the American military except the coast guard can be found. We had friends in all the branches. One of them was an officer in the Marines. I had to stop by their house one evening to work out some details on some event I was planning with his wife. He was preparing for an annual exercise in another part of Asia. He was taut, a little grim, more serious than usual His wife was quiet, and then she looked at me and said, "Every year we have this exercise for a week or two. And every year, one of those kids doesn't come back alive."
I felt like I'd been punched. The kids were 18 year old Marines. Some of them went to church with us, and we had them over to stay with us every weekend, all weekend, and they'd play with our kids, and sing hymns, and go to the beach with us and play volleyball, and rearrange my furniture for me, and help carry in groceries. And then they'd go away to a training exercise and one of them would die. They were not fighting in a war. And people were still dying for their country and we at home knew nothing about it.