ARLINGTON — For the second-straight year, Arlington American Legion Post 76 honored military who have been prisoners of war or missing in action Sept. 16.
The Legion Lounge set up its empty POW/MIA table more than a year before their first ceremony in 2015.
Post member and Vietnam veteran Marty Cress explained that the event was started to give POWs and MIAs a day of observance, separate from the Legion’s commemorations of Memorial Day and Veterans Day.
Cress, who serves as the post’s POW/MIA chairman, reflected Sept. 16 on his own recent but minor illness to acknowledge how fortunate he was, estimating that close to 30 percent of American POWs have died from insufficiently treated illnesses while in captivity.
“When they got sick, they didn’t have access to the medicine they needed,” Cress said. “Their wives weren’t there to pamper them and put them to bed. They had to suffer alone. It’s not right that any of us should feel sorry for ourselves, with what they went through.”
Cress credited those who maintained the POW/MIA table throughout the year, as a symbol of that sacrifice.
“They clip the bottom of the rose, pour water from the cooler into the vase, and place salt and a fresh lemon slice on the table daily,” Cress said. “Every Monday, there’s a fresh rose in the vase.”
The funds raised from the dinner and raffle contests following the ceremony go toward placing a new rose on the table for more than a year to come.
Cress explained the red rose stands for the blood that POWs and MIAs have shed for their country, while the table on which it’s placed is set for one, to remind us of the frailty of one prisoner.The table’s square top signifies that America will search “the four corners of the earth” for its missing military members, and the white tablecloth shows the purity of the service of members’ intentions.
“The ribbon tied to the vase denotes that we bear witness and demand a proper accounting,” Cress said, as members of the Arlington Legion, Auxiliary and Sons of the Legion placed each item on the table.
Cress further elaborated that the napkin and silverware are reflective of simple luxuries that POWs and MIAs cannot take for granted, while the lemon symbolizes their bitter fate and the salt their tears.
“We long for answers after decades of uncertainty,” Cress said. “The glass on the table is inverted because they cannot drink a toast with us. The candle is lit, to illuminate their way home.”
A Bible was placed on the table in honor of the strength that service members gain from their faith and their country, while the chair’s emptiness stands for all POWs and MIAs.
Representatives of each branch of service stepped forward as Cress called out their numbers of POWs and MIAs — 514 for the Army, 359 for the Navy, 508 for the Air Force and 206 for the Marine Corps. Although the Coast Guard had no POWs or MIAs, Cress added that their ranks included troops killed in Vietnam.