Honoring the Absent, A POW and MIA Empty Chair Ceremony

During our karate banquet this past weekend, I encountered my first POW/MIA Empty Chair Ceremony. I do not know if I will ever have the chance to be a part of another ceremony such as this as we are not a military family.  However, I felt compelled to write it all down so I will always remember those who serve. It affected me so profoundly, I wanted to share it with you here.

American Karate -do



(The words read and the sight of the empty seat can barely be imitated in pictures but I will do my best.)

Oh grant us help against the foe, for vain is the salvation of man! With God we shall do valiantly; it is he who will tread down our foes. PSALM 108:12,13

This is the ceremony as it was read:


As you entered the building tonight, you may have noticed a table at the front.  Please direct your attention to this table.  It is reserved to honor our missing loved ones, from each of our five branches of military service; The Army, Navy, Air force, Marines, and Coast Guard.

pow:mia2…then a prayer…

This ceremony is rich with military tradition as we honor 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 or missing in action.  It also symbolizes that they are with us here in spirit.  At all military functions where meals are served, our American heroes are always honored and remembered.  All Americans should never forget the brave men and women who answered our nation’s call and served the cause of freedom in a special way.

This table is set for our prisoners of war and those missing in action -from all wars.  They are not with us this evening.

We would like to take this opportunity to remember the incredible cost paid by those who gave their all to help preserve the freedoms we enjoy, those gallant individuals who fought and died for our country.  Yet, it is in remembering our fallen comrades that we are reminded of those whose fate is still unknown, those still listed as missing in action and prisoners of war.

More than 78,000 Americans are still unaccounted for from World War II; 8,100 from Korea; 120 from the Cold War; 1,810 from Vietnam; 3 from the 1st Gulf War; and the numbers are still growing in the Iraqi and Afghanistan Wars.  These courageous Americans who dedicated their lives to preserving and protecting our freedom, will never be forgotten.

To honor these men and women, we  perform the POW/MIA Empty Chair Ceremony.

Those who have served and those currently serving in the uniformed services of the United States are ever mindful that the sweetness of enduring peace has always been tainted by the bitterness of personal sacrifice.  We are compelled to never forget that while we enjoy our daily pleasures, there are others who have endured and may still be enduring the agonies of pain, and deprivation.

Once again we call your attention to this small table which occupies a place of dignity and honor.  It is being set for one, symbolizing the fact that members of our armed forces are still missing from their ranks, and our presence.  They are referred to as POW’s and MIA’s.


We call them friends, loved ones, and comrades.  They are unable to be with their loved ones and families, so we join together to pay our humble tribute to them, and to bear witness to their continued absence.

The table is round 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 table is being set for one, symbolizing the frailty of one prisoner, alone against his or her oppressors.


There is a Bible on the very front of the table.  The Bible serves to remind us of the comfort of faith offered to those who face seemingly insurmountable challenges, and it also reminds us of our country being founded on the principle of ‘One Nation Under God’.

The yellow ribbon on the vase represents the yellow ribbons worn on the lapels of thousands who demand, with unyielding determination, a proper account of our United States Military servicemen who are not among us.

The single 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 reminds us of the family and friends of our missing servicemen who keep faith, while awaiting their return.

The slice of lemon on the plate is to remind us of their bitter fate, those captured and missing in a foreign land.

The salt sprinkled on the plate is to remind us of the countless tears of those who have never come home and of the tears of their families and friends, whose grief knows no end.

The glass is inverted; they cannot toast with us this night.

The lit 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.

The American flag reminds us that many may never return and have paid the supreme sacrifice to insure our freedom as Americans.

The chair is empty.  Our friends, our loved ones, our comrades are missing.


Remember, all of us that served with them, as we look upon this empty table…do not remember the ghosts from the past, remember out comrades.

Remember those whom we depend on in battle.  They depend on us to bring them home.

Remember our friends.  They are the ones we love-who love life and freedom as we do.

They will remember what we do.  Please honor and remember them.

May God forever watch over them and protect them and their families.  Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

And may we always remember.  Amen.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13

P.S. Thank you, Soke, for sharing this.

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