The Rockingham Civitan Club honored nearly a dozen veterans at its last meeting Thursday.
Dan Allen, John Daniel, Charles Harrell, Dennis Holloway, Tommy Infinger, J.C. Lamm, Norman Nixon, Carl Shy and Charlie Tyler were honored by Civitan with a special program, presented by Vietnam veteran Richard Martin.
Martin explained the little known tradition of “the white table,”which originated during the Vietnam war as a symbol for and remembrance to service members held prisoner of war or missing in action. Solitary and solemn, it is the table where no one will ever sit.
“An unpopular war in America, the Vietnam war brought hard times to our nation and even more so to its veterans,” said Martin. “The soldiers and military personnel sent to serve there in active combat returned to an unfriendly homeland that largely didn’t honor their service and sacrifice of self on foreign soil. However, out of those troubling times came new outward symbols of caring for our MIA and POW service members. Initiated by loving family members and concerned organizations, these outward symbols included: POW bracelets, yellow ribbons, a POW flag, and the MIA/POW Remembrance or Missing Man Table.”
According to Martin, a group called the Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association, or the River Rats, set the first MIA/POW Remembrance Table. During the Vietnam war this daring group of airmen came from different branches of America’s armed forces. They took their name from missions flown into North Vietnam and the combat zone surrounding Hanoi along the Red River. The missions were dangerous, and pilots took strength from their brotherhood of courage and shared knowledge.
The River Rats pledged themselves to taking care of their own and having reunions once the war ended and the POWs came home, but initially held practice reunions while still in Southeast Asia and America. It was at the first practice reunion that the MIA/POW table was set in remembrance of fallen and missing comrades.
The Remembrance Table made its way into all military dining ceremonies. At the ceremonies, a series of toasts are made before being seated to eat, with the last toast, “to remember until they come home,” reserved for, and always made with water, their comrades of the MIA/POW table.
The table is covered with a white cloth “to honor a soldier’s pure heart when he answers his country’s call to duty,” and a lemon slice and grains of salt are placed on a plate “to show a captive soldier’s bitter fate and tears of families waiting for loved ones to return.” An empty chair is pushed to the table for the missing soldiers who are not here.
“We lay a black napkin for the sorrow of captivity, and turn over a glass for the meal that won’t be eaten,” explained Martin. “We place a white candle for peace and finally, a red rose in a vase tied with a red ribbon for the hope that all our missing will return some day.”
— Staff Writer Dawn M. Kurry can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 15, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.