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Library hosts tribute to service members who never came home

By Sue Sitter - | Sep 11, 2021

Sue Sitter/PCT John Gustafson, public relations representative for Rugby Clarence Larson American Legion Post 23, stands near an empty table set for one at Heart of America Public Library.

Visitors to the Heart of America Public Library will see a unique display during the first few weeks of September near the elevator.

A single chair sits against a dining table covered with a white tablecloth under a place setting for one. It’s a lonely sight in a public building, and that’s the point, according to John Gustafson, public relations representative for the Rugby Clarence Larson American Legion Post 23.

Gustafson said the display serves as a visual tribute to National POW/MIA day, observed Sept. 17.

“Although it’s not a national holiday, its significance cannot be downplayed,” Gustafson said in a written statement.

Gustafson said the table set for one symbolizes “the frailty of one prisoner alone against his captors; a white tablecloth symbolizes the purity of their intentions to respond to their country’s call to arms; a single red rose is displayed to remind us of the families and loved ones of our comrade-in-arms who keep the faith awaiting their return.”

Other elements of the display include “a yellow ribbon tied around the vase representing the ribbons worn by thousands who bear witness to their unyielding determination to demand a proper accounting of our missing. A candle is lit, symbolizing the unconquerable spirit of our missing. A slice of lemon reminds us of their bitter fate. Salt is on a bread plate representing the families’ tears as they wait. A glass is inverted because those missing cannot toast with us. A chair is empty because they are not here.”

Gustafson added, “Best estimates by the Defense Department’s POW/MIA Office are that 1,741 American military personnel are missing or unaccounted for from the Vietnam War as of April 2009.”

“In July, 1979, Congress passed a resolution authorizing National POW/MIA Recognition Day to be observed on July 18, 1979,” Gustafson added. “It was held on different days until 1986, when it was moved to the third Friday of September. Each year, the president issues a proclamation for National POW/MIA Recognition Day. Many states issue proclamations of their own.”

Gustafson’s statement added, “One of the symbols of POW/MIA recognition is the POW/MIA flag. Designed by Newt Heisley, the flag features a silhouette of a young man, based on Heisley’s son, who was medically discharged from the military. As he looked at his returning son’s gaunt features, he imaged what life was like for those in captivity. From that, he sketched the new flag’s design.”

Gustafson said Americans remember the sacrifices of those who served and the POWs and MIAs who never came home in a number of ways. Some states host veterans’ rallies; American Legion posts hold various programs to remember them as well. The Rugby Clarence Larson Post 23 displays posters to educate the public on the history, service and sacrifices of military personnel in their communities.

At the Heart of America Public Library, a book entitled, “America’s White Table” sits on the table display. The white table display will be available for viewing at the library through Sept. 18.

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