The Missing Man Table, also known as the Fallen Comrade Table, is a place of honor, set up in military dining facilities of the U.S. armed forces and during occasions such as service branch birthday balls, in memory of fallen, missing, or imprisoned military service-members. The table serves as the focal point of ceremonial remembrance, originally growing out of US concern of the Vietnam War POW/MIA issue.
Beyond permanent displays in dining facilities, the missing man table is traditionally part of military dining-in ceremonies and service balls. In recent years, the ceremony has been frequently performed in conjunction with Veterans Day and Memorial Day services. When presented in a dining-in or service ball, a narration given to the audience explains the symbolism of each item. The practice of the missing man table has evolved over time and is not currently governed by any US Department of Defense or service-specific guidance.
The listed items are considered traditional. Some commands and units may place head covers or other items at the place setting as well.
Table: set for one, is small, and symbolizing the frailty of one isolated prisoner. The table is usually set close to, or within sight of, the entrance to the dining room. For large events of the Missing Man Table is set for six places: members of the five armed services (Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard) and a sixth place setting reminiscent of the civilians who died during service alongside the armed forces or missing during armed conflict.Table is round to represent everlasting concern on the part of the survivors for their missing loved ones.
The tablecloth is white, symbolic of the purity of their intentions to respond to their country’s call to arms.
Single red rose in the vase, signifies the blood that
have shed in sacrifice to ensure the freedom of our beloved United States of America. This rose also reminds us of the family and friends of our missing comrades who keep the faith, while awaiting their return.
The red ribbon (yellow ribbon for Air Force ceremonies) represents the love of our country, which inspired them to answer the nation’s call.
Slice of lemon on the bread plate: represents the bitter fate of the missing.
Salt sprinkled on the bread plate: symbolic of the countless fallen tears of families as they wait.
Inverted glass: represents the fact that the missing and fallen cannot partake.
The Bible represents the spiritual strength and faith to sustain those lost from our country. (However, the bible is being removed from tables to prevent alienating service members who are not Christian and to avoid the government endorsing any one religion over another.)
Lit candle: 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.
Empty chair: the missing and fallen aren’t present.
Table Ceremony Script – Read during modern military remembrance events paying honors to POW/MIA. Generally the table is being set while the script is read.
The table that stands before you is a place of honor. In setting this table, we acknowledge those missing from our celebration today. And we remember them. The table is small, and set for one — Symbolizing the vulnerability of a lone prisoner against his captors. The tablecloth is white — Symbolizing purity of intention in responding to the nation’s call to arms. The chair is empty, for they are not here. The wine glass is inverted — They cannot toast with us this night. The slices of lemon — Reminding us of their bitter suffering. The grains of salt — Representing the countless tears of the families. The single red rose — Reminding us of loved ones who keep the faith awaiting their return. The burning candle and yellow ribbon — Symbolizing everlasting hope of a reunion with the missing. All who have served alongside them; we who have donned the same proud uniform, being sworn to the same faith and allegiance — We will never forget their sacrifice. Until the day they return home, or find eternal peace, we will remember.