The Missing Man Table Helps Us Teach
The POW/MIA issue dates back to previous conflicts but really came to the public’s attention during the Vietnam War.

The Missing Man Table Helps Us Teach

Who’s eating at that table, Mommy?” 

“No one eats at this table, Seth,” the mother responds in front of a small table neatly dressed in a white tablecloth with one chair. “It’s the Missing Man Table set in remembrance to honor our country’s Prisoners of War (POW) and those declared Missing in Action (MIA) in service to our country.” 

A naïve child’s question opens a lifelong opportunity to learn the value of living in a free nation—an opportunity to grasp the meaning of sacrifice, love of country, and selflessness. A cornerstone of the mission to remember, honor, and teach, Wreaths Across America (WAA) is committed to sharing stories and the history of service while teaching the next generation.

The Wreaths Across America Teach program encompasses a free, downloadable standards-based curriculum for K-12 grades created by lifelong educator and Gold Star Mother Cindy Tatum. Cindy lives in Tennessee and is Wreaths Across America’s Education Liaison and Curriculum Developer.

Now more than ever, our youth need to understand the importance of service to others, not just for the extrinsic rewards-badges, ribbons, or community service hours for college, etc., but for the intrinsic rewards, which lead to: 

  • more effective learning.
  • higher rates of persistence when attempting to learn or achieve something new.
  • greater problem-solving skills.
  • improved decision-making skills.
  • forming a connection between local concerns and global problems.
  • a sense of accomplishment while contributing to their community.
  • All these skills are necessary for students to develop to their maximum potential academically. They are also skills that will help to instill positive character traits that stay with them for a lifetime.  

    The “biggest tool in the Wreaths Across America teaching shed” is the Mobile Education Exhibit (MEE) under the thoughtful guidance of Trish Gardner, the MEE Ambassadors, and the Wreaths transportation division. When you see the MEE on display, you will see a Missing Man Table as part of the teaching initiative.

    More than 80,000 American service personnel are still missing from previous conflicts, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. The POW/MIA issue dates back to previous conflicts but really came to the public’s attention during the Vietnam War. The POW/MIA table is also called a fallen comrade table. The ceremony varies slightly in its presentation, which is conducted countless times throughout the year in military dining halls and other memorial locations. The symbolism of the table always remains the same, although it can be set in different ways using military covers and up to six chairs. It reminds spectators of the service members who did not return home but are with us in spirit. “You are not forgotten” is the slogan on the bold, black-and-white flag. Here’s a sample script:

    As you entered the dining area, you may have noticed a table at the front, raised to call your attention to its purpose — it is reserved to honor our missing loved ones [or missing comrades in arms, for veterans]. Set for six, the empty places represent Americans still [our men] missing from each of the five services Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard – and civilians. This Honors Ceremony symbolizes that they are with us, here in spirit . . .  I would like to explain the meaning of the items on this special table. The table is round — to show our everlasting concern for our missing men. The tablecloth is white — symbolizing the purity of their motives when answering the call to duty. The single red rose, displayed in a vase, reminds us of the life of each of the missing and the[ir] loved ones and friends of these Americans who keep the faith, awaiting answers. The vase is tied with a red ribbon, a symbol of our continued determination to account for our missing. A slice of lemon on the bread plate reminds us of the bitter fate of those captured and missing in a foreign land. A pinch of salt symbolizes the tears endured by those missing and their families who seek answers. The Bible represents the strength gained through faith to sustain those lost from our country, founded as one nation under God. The glass is inverted — to symbolize their inability to share this evening’s [morning’s/day’s] toast. The chairs are empty — they are missing. Let us now raise our water glasses in a toast to honor America’s POW/MIAs and to the success of our efforts to account for them.”

    The Wreaths Across America TEACH program is supported by partners like the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. Here’s a wonderful contribution by Medal of Honor Recipient Herschel Woody Williams, reading about the Missing Man Table in a book called America’s White Table

    The Mobile Education Exhibit will participate with another teaching partner, The United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration on National Vietnam War Veterans Day on March 29, 2023, at the “Pinning Arizona” event in Camp Verde.” 

    Be sure to stop by, meet the Wreaths TEAM and get a tour of the MEE. If you’re fortunate, you’ll be able to witness firsthand a pinning and proper ‘welcome home’ of our Vietnam veterans.

    Remember to check out the K-12 Curriculum, where lesson plans on the Missing Man Table can be found.