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Honoring the missing

Ceremony closes Moving Wall display

Alexis DeLaCruz
Residents view the Moving Wall on Thursday after the opening ceremony for the wall's Craig visit. The wall, a replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., is on display 24 hours a day through noon Monday at Loudy-Simpson Park.
Michelle Balleck

— A white coffee cup and wine glass were turned upside down.

A small pinch of salt sat in the middle of an empty plate, and a white lace tablecloth fluttered in a barely noticeable breeze Monday.

The neatly set round table, which was perched on a platform to honor the U.S. armed forces missing men and women, was feet from the Moving Wall that has stood in Loudy-Simpson Park since Thursday.

Ned Miller, a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 4265, explained the meaning of the lone table with its empty place setting.

“It’s called the Missing Man Ceremony. It’s to honor those who aren’t here,” he said. “It’s a very symbolic thing. This is the perfect time to do it.”

The Missing Man Ceremony, also called the Missing Man Table and Honors Ceremony, was part of a brief closing event that included a 21-gun salute, the playing of “Taps,” speeches from veterans and a little unexpected thunder.

“It’s a real heart jerker,” Miller said, eyeing the table. “If you think about your immediate family – losing a husband, brother, son or wife – and then look around here, where you’ve got that thousands of times over. Everyone on that wall was loved. Each one of those families felt a tremendous loss.”

Monday’s ceremony concluded a five-day display of the Moving Wall, a miniature replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. The traveling wall contains the names of 58, 253 soldiers who died or are still missing from the Vietnam War.

Christina Currie, executive director of the Craig Chamber of Commerce, said about 5,802 people visited the Moving Wall since Thursday though that number does not reflect people who visited the wall more than once. The total number of visits likely exceeded 10,000, she said.

“I was amazed that we had people come out here eight or nine times, and some that came out at all hours of the day and night,” she said.

Watching visitors touch the Wall’s names, etch names into notebooks, take photos and pour whiskey shots at the base of the wall was touching, Currie said.

“It’s neat to see what strikes people and how people make it meaningful to them,” she said. “It’s very individual for each person. Some people like the peace and solitude to mourn while others will take a drink from a whiskey bottle and pour the rest of it out for the friends they lost. It’s very emotional.”

Craig resident Susan Nayden brought her two grandchildren, Madison Appel, 8, and C.J. Appel, 12, to the Moving Wall to give them some perspective.

“I don’t think they fully understand what this wall means, fortunately, but I wanted them to see it anyway,” Nayden said Monday.

Madison Appel said she saw several last names of people she recognized, including a friend of her father’s and a teacher, who might have been related to the person whose name on the wall.

“It makes me sad because I saw some names I recognized,” she said.

Nayden said several generations of her family served in the military, including her grandfather, father, brothers, nephews and cousins – though they all returned home.

“I’m one of the lucky ones who doesn’t have a name on this wall,” she said. “Not many people can say that.”

Walking up and down the wall, Nayden said she wondered about the names she was reading.

“It’s hard not to look at these names and wonder if they were friends of my brothers,” she said.

Nayden was determined to read all 58,253 names etched on the gleaming walls before she left the park.

“I’m determined to read every name out here to honor all of these men,” she said. “I started at the long end and I’m not even halfway through.”

VFW Post No. 4265 Chaplain Johnny Garcia led the closing ceremony’s invocation, hoping visitors would understand that the names on the wall were more than that.

“These names are not just names,” he said. “They belonged to a person. When people go to this wall, they are remembering a person who was loved as a brother, a husband, a son, a friend or a father.”

During the Missing Man Ceremony, VFW commander Bud Nelson explained to a crowd that a pinch of salt on the plate represented tears; that the slice of lemon represented a bitter fate; and how the empty chair was empty for an obvious reason.

“Because they’re still missing,” he said.


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