American POW/MIAs were honored during a ceremony at the Tribute to Veterans Memorial in Warrenton, Missouri.
A large crowd gathered at the Tribute to Veterans Memorial in Warrenton on Sept. 15.
They came to view an empty chair.
That chair symbolized the more than 80,000 American veterans who remain listed as prisoners of war and missing in action.
“It’s part of history,” Tino Patti said. Patti, a Vietnam veteran, was the emcee for the annual POW/MIA ceremony.
His job was to ensure people never forget those servicemen and women who gave their lives for their country.
“A lot of my friends are on that wall,” he said.
But there are a number of Americans from that conflict, and every conflict dating back to World War II, whose fate remains unknown.
The Department of Defense says there were more than 81,000 Americans still missing from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, and the Gulf War.
Of those, 75 percent are in the Indo-Pacific theater, and more than half are presumed lost at sea.
The Warren County ceremony was designed to ensure none of them were forgotten.
Prayers were said, wreaths were laid, and candles were lit in tribute to those veterans still waiting to come home.
American servicemen and women make two promises, keynote speaker Gary Ruebling said. The first is to defend the country.
The second is sacred.
“That promise is to leave no one behind in combat and to honor the special sacrifices made by our POW’s,” Ruebling said in his speech. “That promise is made because Americans overseas and in captivity depend on it for inspiration and assurance. They serve with confidence, knowing that if captured, injured or killed in action, our nation will make every effort to bring them home, that they will never, ever be abandoned or forgotten.”
And that’s why the empty chair was such an important symbol.
That chair was placed at a small table.
“We call our attention to this small table, which occupies a place of dignity and honor,” explained June Patti. “It is set for one and symbolizes this fact that they are members of the armed forces that are missing from our ranks. They are referred to as POW/MIAs. We call them comrades.”
She then dove deeper into the symbolism.
“Let us remember and never forget their sacrifice,” June Patti said.
And then, one by one, everyone was given a candle and placed it near the statue of the lone woman and child.
That was followed by a three-volley salute of gunfire and a mournful bugler play of Taps.
Both hammered home the solemnity and the emotion of the ceremony.
“I tell people I think that is the saddest song ever played,” bugler Henry Orf said. Orf is the commander of American Legion Post 180 based in Marthasville. “Anybody that was ever in the service, it gets your heart because you know what it means. It means you have lost another of your brothers.”
The ceremony left a powerful imprint on the Boy Scouts who helped with the ceremony. Troop 22 from Warrenton and Troop 359 from Marthasville were both present.
“It makes you want to participate because it brings the whole community together,” Scout Anthony Ehlenbeck said. “It brings all of the community together all for one purpose: to honor our fallen soldiers and our fallen POWs and people we have not found yet.”
Ehlenbeck has a brother serving in the Navy, and he plans to join the service as well.
“It seems like a big brotherhood,” he said. “Everybody comes in as a family. We all come in and we serve the same purpose to honor God, to honor the country, to honor our sole purpose of just living and being a good human.”
But Ehlenbeck said the ceremony also highlights the risk to anyone serving.
“There’s always that possibility you don’t come home,” he said. “But it’s part of life. Somebody has to do it.”