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 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.