“You are not forgotten” has long been a slogan that serves to remind Americans of the many Armed Forces members who are regarded as POWs and MIAs – last known to have been prisoners of war or missing in action from any of the wars and military interventions in which our country has engaged over the years.
Continuing an annual tradition, Our Lady of the Lakes Council 8903 in Oakdale, Connecticut, sets up a table display at Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic Church every Memorial Day weekend to honor these POWs and MIAs. It’s a quiet and low-key presentation, but its silent witness packs a punch.
“A tradition since the end of the Vietnam War at some military functions and military veteran associations is to set a small round table in full view of the audience that is never occupied -- the Prisoners of War/Missing in Action (POW/MIA) table,” explained Joseph Tycz, who was Grand Knight when the idea was first proposed two years ago by Master Chief Marc Dube, USN (Ret.), himself a Past Grand Knight.
The Oakdale council “supported the idea 100 percent and adopted this theme to honor those lost and suffering veterans” as well as to remind parishioners of their sacrifice, Tycz said. CM Dube “further adapted the small round table to a more Catholic tradition with addition of a rosary, crucifix, and Divine Mercy prayer card and also with hopes for return of Catholics who have fallen away and lost their faith,” he added.
A flyer in the church bulletin and pamphlets left with the table explain to parishioners the purpose of the display and the significance of each item present. The presence of the display and its purpose is announced at Mass along with an invitation for the faithful to view it following the liturgy. The table remains unattended.
Under present GK George Horan, the council plans to set up the table for the weekend near Veteran’s Day as well.
Some items in the display have both secular and religious symbolism. For example, the table is round, an infinite circle representing unending concern and loving memories of the missing, while the white tablecloth symbolizes the purity of their sacrifice – and serves as a reminder of baptism as well. An empty chair represents those who are not with us, our hope and welcome for their return, and their place at the table for our Eucharistic meal, the Mass.
Items on the table include a black napkin for the emptiness in the hearts of the missing soldiers’ families and friends, as well as the service of the priest-chaplains on the battlefields and at sea; a single red rose, for the love of their families and their love of our country; salt, for tears of mourning; lemon slices, for their selfless sacrifice and bitter fate; bread and wine, representing their own sacrifice and the Sacrifice of the Eucharist; an overturned wine glass, symbolizing that these Armed Forces members cannot be with us; and a yellow ribbon, symbolizing the everlasting hope for a joyful reunion.
Symbols that require no explanation include the American flag, a Bible, a rosary, a crucifix, a candle, and the Divine Mercy image.
Tycz said a dozen or so individuals and families usually stop at the table after each Mass. “Parishioners appear to be receptive to the table and the honor it represents,” he has observed. “There is a seriousness and somberness when people point to and discuss each item.”
According to the POW/MIA Accounting Agency of the U.S. Department of Defense, some 81,000 Armed Forces personnel remain missing from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Gulf Wars and other conflicts. Of these, 75% of the losses are located in the Indo-Pacific, and more than 41,000 are presumed lost at sea from ship losses or downed aircraft.
And Council 8903 wants us to honor them and never forget them.
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