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The Missing Man Table is an semi-official place of honor in some dining facilities of the U.S. armed forces in memory of fallen, missing, or imprisoned military service-members.[1] The table serves as the focal point of ceremonial remembrance, originally growing out of US concern of the Vietnam War POW/MIA issue.[2][3]


Beyond permanent displays in dining facilities, the missing man table is traditionally part of military dining-in ceremonies and service balls.[4][5][6] 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.


A missing man table featured during a 2009 ceremony at Eglin Air Force Base.

The listed items are considered traditional. Some commands and units may place headcovers or other items at the place setting as well.[7]

  • Table: set for one, is small, symbolizing the frailty of one isolated prisoner. The table is usually in the range 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.[8] Table is round to represent everlasting concern on the part of the survivors for their missing loved ones.[9]
  • Tablecloth is white, symbolic of the purity of their intentions to respond to their country’s call to arms.[10]
  • Single red rose in the vase, signifies the blood that many 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.[11]
  • Yellow ribbon on the vase represents the yellow ribbons worn on the lapels of the thousands who demand with unyielding determination a proper accounting of our comrades who are not among us tonight.[12]
  • Slice of lemon on the plate: represents the bitter fate of the missing.[13]
  • Salt sprinkled on the plate: symbolic of the countless fallen tears of families as they wait.[14]
  • Inverted glass: represents the fact that the missing and fallen cannot partake.
  • Empty chair: the missing and fallen aren't present.[15]
  • 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.


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