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Poem: The Ceremony (POW/MIA)

What It's About

The POW/MIA ceremony at formal military events, such as the annual Air Force Ball, is a tribute to our servicemen and women who remain prisoners of war (POW) or missing in action (MIA). As an airman, I witnessed several POW/MIA ceremonies, and they never failed to move me.

This poem is about those ceremonies, as I remember them, and aims to capture the feeling in the room when they take place.

Every item mentioned in the poem is symbolic, and explained in the POW/MIA ceremony script read by the Master of Ceremonies. For example, the "slice of bitter fate" refers to the slice of lemon at each place setting, which represents the bitter fate of prisoners of war and those missing in action.

The ceremony, as I recall, is concluded with all attendees drinking a toast with water instead of alcohol, as the people they are toasting do not have such luxuries.

American flag flying against a partly cloudy sky.

American flag flying against a partly cloudy sky.

The Ceremony (POW/MIA)

The room holds its breath
while the guard of honor moves –
practiced in unity,
ceremonial in pace,
they approach.

The table is empty –
place settings reserved
with pristine service caps,
The goblets are inverted.
No lips will press against their rims

A white candle—
A red rose—
A yellow ribbon—
A slice of bitter fate.

A dash of uncertain loss
falls upon a white plate
on a white, round tablecloth.

Hearts beat,
with the dignity
of a tribe that remembers.

Me in Afghanistan in 2012.

Me in Afghanistan in 2012.

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