Young Katie explains how Uncle John, a Vietnam veteran, will be coming to their house for dinner. Her mother explains to Katie and her sisters about the White Table: how it is intended to honor America’s Armed Forces, but most especially MIAs and POWs.
“We use a small table, girls,” she explained first, “to show one soldier’s lonely battle against many. We cover it with a white cloth to honor a soldier’s pure heart when he answers his country’s call to duty.
We place a lemon slice and grains of salt on a plate to show a captive soldier’s bitter fate and the tears of families waiting for loved ones to return,” she continued.
“We push an empty chair to the table for the missing soldiers who are not here.”
“We lay a black napkin for the sorrow of captivity, and turn over a glass for the meal that won’t be eaten,” she said.
“We place a white candle for peace and finally, a red rose in a vase tied with a red ribbon for the hope that all our missing will return someday.”
Katie then tells us how she learns her beloved Uncle John was shot down behind enemy lines. Uncle John and the rest of his helicopter crew were taken prisoner. One crew member, Mike, was seriously injured. When there was an opportunity to escape, Mike was too sick to go, so Uncle John stayed behind – “he wouldn’t leave a fellow soldier alone so far from home.”
Later, Uncle John had another chance to escape, this time taking Mike with him. Uncle John did his best to keep them both alive, and eventually found an American infantry unit, but Mike succumbed to his wounds before a rescue helicopter could arrive.
“I know that Mike was only 20 years old and he dreamed of playing football, but he loved America enough to give his life for his country when duty called.
And I know how much Uncle John loves America, too, but he learned when helping Mike that a soldier risks his life for a fellow soldier, because the best of our country lives in every man and woman who would lay down their life for you, too.”
Katie and her sisters decided the little table also “needed words of gratitude”, so they decide to leave gifts of their own on the table. Gretchen draws a picture of the objects on the table. Samantha transcribes the lyrics from “My Country ‘Tis of Thee”, but Katie doesn’t know what she, a 10-year old, could leave “that was as important as each veteran’s gift of freedom”. Throughout dinner, she thinks, then imagines those “silent soldiers of the empty chair saying:
Remember us, please…
we are real people like your Uncle John and Mike
who left families and friends, homes and dreams of our own
to protect your birthright of liberty from disappearing
as easily as sunlight from a glass”
At the back of the book, the Author’s Note is a history of the White Table, beginning with the Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association, or the River Rats, setting the first MIA/POW Remembrance Table during the Vietnam War. Sometimes the objects on the table vary, as can the symbolism of those objects. Regardless, the intent is the same: to remember those of our Armed Forces who are not able to be with us because of their service.
If you have children in your life – kids, grandkids, whatever – I would recommend sharing this book with them. According to barnesandnoble.com, this book is recommended for ages 6 to 12. The topic is a little “heavy”, so you’d have to make the judgment about whether or not your children are mature enough yet to understand the message of the story, but you could also share it with older children to help show the importance of honoring our Armed Forces for their service. The book jacket includes the following quote from General George Washington:
“The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional as to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation.”
Linked at Argghhh!
Update 11/3/07: If you are looking for a book appropriate for Veterans Day, you might also consider Pepper's Purple Heart.