Liaison’s Ledger: The Empty Table

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

As we prepare for Veterans Day, to be marked by a ceremony at Beinecke Memorial Plaza this Friday, 10-NOV, 1230 PM, I am reminded of the “Empty Table” set at two events I was fortunate to attend this week.  One was our Yale Naval ROTC Navy and Marine Corps Birthday Ball, held annually to commemorate the birthdays of the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps.  The other was held at the Anthony Wayne Middle School in Wayne, New Jersey. 

At each, there was a small table set meticulously and symbolically for those unable to be present for the celebration.  For those not familiar with the Empty Table, it serves as a ceremonial remembrance and originally grew out concern for the Vietnam War POWs and MIA troops.  While there is no official standard for this, the table is placed close to the entrance of the dining room.  It is usually round, small and set with a with a white tablecloth.  On the table is a red rose in a vase with a red ribbon, a lit candle and a single place setting with glass inverted and salt and lemon on the plate.  The single place setting symbolizes the loneliness of the prisoner, the round table represents the everlasting concern of the survivors for their missing comrades.  The white tablecloth is symbolic of the purity of their intentions to respond to their country’s call to arms and the single red rose in a vase with a red ribbon signifies the blood that many have shed in sacrifice, as well as a reminder of the family and friends of our missing comrades who keep the faith, while awaiting their return.  The slice of lemon represents the bitter fate of the missing and the salt sprinkled on the plate is symbolic of the countless fallen tears of families as they wait.  The inverted glass represents the fact that the missing and fallen cannot partake and the lit candle is 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. The empty chair reminds everyone that the missing and fallen are not present, but that there is a visible place for them in our ceremonies and celebrations. 

As we celebrate veterans present at Yale ceremonies on Friday, we also take a moment to remember those in whose honor the Empty Table is prepared.  Please do not hesitate to call me at 203-432-0879 with your questions and comments on how we might support those who have served.  Email:

News Tags: