Remembering our fallen service members

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Many of us have seen the vacant Prisoner of War and Missing in Action table set for one at dining facilities or at banquets. We've seen the white tablecloth, the single red rose, the yellow ribbon, lemon slice, sprinkled salt, inverted glass, empty chair and burning candle. But how many of us know what this traditional table and each of these items signify?

This table represents dignity and honor. Set for one, it symbolizes the missing member from the ranks of our armed forces. Our comrades, our prisoners of war, our members missing in action. The white tablecloth represents the purity of their intentions to respond to their countries call to arms. The single red rose signifies the blood many have shed in sacrifice to ensure the freedom of our beloved United States of America. It also reminds loved ones of our missing comrades to keep faith in awaiting their return. The yellow ribbon tied on the vase represents the yellow ribbons worn on lapels of the thousands who demand the proper accounting of our comrades who are not with us. The lemon on the plate stands as a reminder of their bitter fate. The sprinkled salt represents the countless fallen tears of the waiting families. The inverted glass signifies they cannot toast on that night. The empty chair, they are not here. The burning candle is reminiscent of hope of their return and a way to light their way home, away from their captors, to our nation.

For those who have served, serve today and plan to serve their country tomorrow, POW/MIA Recognition Day is a time to remember and honor those who came before us. It also reminds us to stay vigilant in the search for those still missing.

Some may ask or wonder, "Why is it so important to look for the remains of those from over 50 years ago or more?" The real question is, "Why wouldn't we?"

Bringing home our troops conveys peace. Deceased or alive, their families, friends, wingmen, shipmates, battle buddies can sleep at night knowing they are back in the land of the free and home of the brave.

During the 2012 POW/MIA proclamation, President Barack Obama re-affirmed the importance of continuing the search for our missing brethren.

"We pay solemn tribute to service members who bore war's tragic costs as prisoners of war and those missing in action," said President Barack Obama. "We stand with the families who have known the lingering ache of a loved one's uncertain fate. And as a Nation, we reaffirm a most sacred obligation: that we must never forget the men and women who did not come home, and that we must never stop trying to return them to their families and the country they fought to protect."

"Keeping the Promise", "Fulfill their Trust" and "No one left behind" are several mottos testifying to the efforts the Department of Defense has made and continue to make to recover the more than 83,000 service members still missing.

Each year, on the third Friday of September, a black flag featuring a white disk bearing a black silhouette of a young man, a watch tower with a guard on patrol and a strand of barbed wire flies high over the White House, the United States Capitol and many other locations across our country.

We will raise this flag as a solemn reminder that our service members are not forgotten. Let this flag be a constant reminder that we will fill our obligation to always remember the sacrifices which were made to defend our Nation.

At Goodfellow, a flag flies year round at the POW/MIA site near the Event Center remembering the fallen.

This year, as Taps plays, let us pray that all of our comrades will return home. Let us remember those who came before us and may the sacrifices they made be not in vain.