Missing Man Ceremony—What Is It? Guest Post by Sara Walter Ellwood

Author Sara Walter EllwoodWhile writing my debut contemporary western, Gambling on a Secret, I was able to incorporate one of the most touching ceremonies I’ve ever witnessed in my career as an Army civilian.

The Missing Man Ceremony.

From Chapter 16:

 A few moments later, silence fell over the hundred or so people gathered as a woman in the dress uniform of the Army stood and headed for the podium. As she passed a beautifully set table near the podium, she paused and saluted the six empty plates.

She cleared her throat and solemnly began speaking, riveting Charli with her words. “Set for six, the empty places represent Americans still missing from each of the five services—Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard—and civilians. This Honors Ceremony symbolizes that they are with us, here in spirit…”

Charli looked around as everyone stood at the woman’s request. She sensed Dylan stiffen beside her and glanced at him. He stood tall and straight, as did Tom and every other former or current service man or woman in the place. Even those whose old backs were normally stooped by hard work and age stood with pride. As the officer read from an index card, the “Honor Guard,” consisting of Zack, his uncle, Ella Larson, Tom Miller and two other men, each placed hats from the five branches of the military on the plates. Ella placed a cowboy hat on the sixth.

 She had never witnessed such a moving service before. By the end, she wasn’t the only one sniffing back tears and reaching for tissues. Many of the men were, too.

The scene takes place during a Memorial Day banquet, and Charli’s awe at seeing the service for the first time echoed my own the first time I’d witnessed it. Several years ago, when I attended our annual Christmas party, I’d noticed a small round table set up near the front of the room. I’d wondered what it was for, but hadn’t asked anyone. Then before dinner was served, one of the enlisted soldiers stood and headed for the podium. The sergeant stopped and saluted the table—not just a quick flick of the hand to the forehead, but a full-fledged, textbook salute. I was puzzled. I work in a clinic, and for the most part, we are a laid-back bunch. In fact, I’d never seen any of the soldiers I worked with ever salute even the commander of the place, who is always a colonel, in such practiced precision.

After the sergeant took his place behind the podium, he started reading the ceremony. Like Charli, I couldn’t keep back the tears.

Usually done at banquets, the Missing Men/Man Ceremony acknowledges the absence of the missing in action and deceased veterans. Originally done to honor Vietnam POWs/MIAs, it has become a way to remember all war dead/missing/prisoners.

The service is as follows (source: http://www.powmiaawareness.org/missing-man-ceremony/):

“As you entered the dining area, you may have noticed a table at the front, raised to call your attention to its purpose — it is reserved to honor our missing loved ones [or missing comrades in arms, for veterans].

“Set for six, the empty places represent Americans still [our men] missing from each of the five services — Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard –– and civilians. This Honors Ceremony symbolizes that they are with us, here in spirit. [One place setting can be used if space is an issue.]

“Some [here] in this room were very young when they were sent into combat; however, all Americans should never forget the brave men and women who answered our nation’s call [to serve] and served the cause of freedom with honor.

“I would like to ask you to stand, and remain standing for a moment of silent prayer, as the Honor Guard places the five service covers and a civilian cap on each empty plate.” [NOTE: if you do not have an honor guard participating, place the hats on the empty plates as you are setting up the table.]

Honor Guard: (In silence or with dignified, quiet music as background, the Honor Guard moves into position around the table and simultaneously places the covers of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard, and a civilian hat, on the dinner plate at each table setting. The Honor Guard then departs.)

“Please be seated. I would like to explain the meaning of the items on this special table.

“The table is round — to show our everlasting concern for our missing men.

“The tablecloth is white — symbolizing the purity of their motives when answering the call to duty.

“The single red rose, displayed in a vase, reminds us of the life of each of the missing, and the loved ones and friends of these Americans who keep the faith, awaiting answers.

“The vase is tied with a red ribbon, symbol of our continued determination to account for our missing.

“A slice of lemon on the bread plate is to remind us of the bitter fate of those captured and missing in a foreign land.

“A pinch of salt symbolizes the tears endured by those missing and their families who seek answers.

“The Bible represents the strength gained through faith to sustain those lost from our country, founded as one nation under God.

“The glass is inverted — to symbolize their inability to share this evening’s [morning’s/day’s] toast.

“The chairs are empty — they are missing.

“Let us now raise our water glasses in a toast to honor America’s POW/MIAs and to the success of our efforts to account for them.”


Have any of you ever seen the Missing Man Ceremony?

Gambling on a Secret CoverBlurb:

When Charli bets everything on a secret, will she find the deck stacked against her?

Former runaway-turned-heiress Charli Monroe is hiding her sordid past and planning a future in Colton, Texas. Attending the local college for a degree in social work, she intends to raise cattle on her newly purchased ranch, which she plans to open as a home for troubled teens. Only a few glitches—the Victorian mansion is crumbling, the barn needs a roof, and her oilman neighbor wants more than friendship. When she meets Dylan Quinn, Charli is willing to take a chance on the town drunk to help her rebuild the rundown ranch.

Dylan has his demons, too. The former Special Forces commander can’t get past his ex-wife’s betrayal and the botched mission that left him with much more than a bad limp. Certain the greedy oilman next door to Charli wants much more than just her heart, Dylan’s even willing to stop drinking in order to protect her.


When things get dangerous and secrets of the past are revealed, is he only looking out for his new employer, or is she the new start he so desperately needs?

CONTENT WARNING: Details abuse of a minor, drug abuse, alcoholism, swearing, spicy sex, murder.

“Full of intrigue, tangled pasts, and raw emotions, this one is guaranteed to keep you turning pages from start to finish and then wishing for one more chapter!”—Carolyn Brown, New York Times bestselling author of Just a Cowboy and His Baby.

Ms. Brown also named Gambling On A Secret as one of her favorite romance reads in 2012 in the Happy Ever After Blog on USA Today.


“Ferguson, what are you doing here?” Dylan barked.

Leon ambled toward them on the stone path. “I’m saving a young maiden from torment. What are you doing here, playing the part of the devil?”

“I’m Miss Monroe’s new manager.” The deadly edge of his voice matched the flintiness of his eyes. “If there’s anyone to save the young maiden from, it’s you.”

“Mr. Quinn, please.” She turned to Leon. “Leon, is there something I can do for you?”

He smiled, showing off perfect white teeth in a face handsome enough to belong to an actor. “I was just passing by on my way home and decided to stop. How are the boys working out?”

Dylan’s stance widened and his hands flexed at his slides. “What boys?”

“Charli and I have entered into a business arrangement.”

She lost the battle with the urge to wrap her arms around herself. As much as she appreciated Leon’s kindness, respected him, and was even a little attracted to him, something about him didn’t sit right with her. He represented her peers in the community. According to Mrs. Pratt, besides the Cartwrights, she and Leon were undoubtedly the wealthiest residents in the county. No one in Colton could learn about her past. It would ruin her, and Leon, no doubt, had the means to dig up the dirt.

“Really?” Dylan stepped closer to her in a protective manner. Whiskey tainted his breath as the warmth of the exhalations tickled her cheek. “What kind of business arrangement?”

She could protect herself. Dylan Quinn wasn’t any safer than Leon Ferguson. Stepping away from him, she forced her arms to her sides. “Mr. Quinn, I can handle this.”

She faced Leon. “I’m amazed by how much the men got done since starting on Monday. The foreman told me last evening they’d be reseeding another fifty acres for hay this morning. And they have the corrals fixed and started on the fencing in the north pasture.”

“Good, good.” He glanced at Dylan. “I’ll be going, unless you need a more reliable exterminator. I couldn’t help but overhear about your snake infestation. I can give you the name of the company that has gotten rid of the snakes in our lakes over on Oak Springs for years.”

Although he presented the perfect solution, she didn’t the like way Leon had looked at Dylan as he said the word exterminator. “No, Mr. Quinn is quite capable of getting rid of the snake.”

“Oh, I’m sure he is.” Leon tipped his hat. “Let me know if there’s anything else I can do for you, Charli.” Dylan’s jaw tightened as his uncle glanced at him. “It’s good to see you up among the living again.”

Leon headed back to his Porsche. With no pretense of lowering his voice, Dylan said, “Now, there’s a snake no one wants in their garden.”

Upon hearing the jibe, Leon’s shoulders jerked in mid-stride.

Rattled by Leon’s attention and the snake fiasco, she turned on Dylan. “You aren’t off the hook. I want those snakes gone.”

“We’ll see.”

“I hate snakes.” She shuddered and put her hands on her hips. “Maybe I should have asked him who the exterminator is.”



Sara Walter Ellwood is an award winning author whose novel Gambling On A Secret was named by bestselling author Carolyn Brown in the Happy Ever After Blog on USA Today as one of her favorite romances of 2012. Although Sara has long ago left the farm for the glamour of the big town, she draws on her experiences growing up on a small hobby farm in West Central Pennsylvania to write her stories. She’s been married to her college sweetheart for nearly 20 years, and they have two teenagers and one very spoiled rescue cat named Penny. She longs to visit the places she writes about and jokes she’s a cowgirl at heart stuck in Pennsylvania suburbia. She also writes paranormal romantic suspense under the pen name Cera duBois.

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