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Harry's Gang: Honoring veterans is a solemn duty for all of us

I treat Veterans Day, which is next Thursday, even more seriously than Memorial Day. That's because Memorial Day is a day for families to remember lost loved ones, but Veterans Day honors veterans directly, living or passed. To me, that makes next Thursday a pretty solemn day.

We owe a lot to veterans, many of whom served our country's armed forces in both peacetime and during conflicts. And while quite a few veterans have seen combat, many veterans haven't seen any "action," as they call it, but rather supported the troops that did in many different ways. It takes a village, so to speak, to maintain the armed forces, to defend our country and protect our interests. Those who worked in the motorpool, cooked the food, cleaned the barracks, and ordered the supplies should be honored along with those who carried weapons. Maybe those jobs weren't as dangerous, and it certainly takes a brave soldier to put themselves in harm's way for our country, but sometimes we forget the sacrifice of the support troops, too.

I never served, which I regret. Back in 1982, when I graduated from high school, recruiters tried to persuade me to join their organizations, but as a young idealist pacifist, I didn't give service any real consideration. That was a mistake. As I grew up and saw how the world really works, I realized that serving our country is an important contribution to our society. I've even argued that mandatory service should be considered for our young people, whether it's in the armed forces or in some other capacity. That idea needs a lot of scrutiny, and there would be many details to work out, but I like the idea.

But on Veterans Day, we honor those who have served in the Armed Forces.

Some people remember those veterans all the time. Recently, I attended the Trailblazers luncheon at the VFW in West End Cloquet. The VFW, like many chapters, operates a club, which is essentially a bar where members can socialize, and a gathering room, where the lunch was held and where the VFW holds many of its events, such as the famous $5 burger night or the Marine Corps Ball.

It's in that room where the VFW has set up a memorial table to veterans who have served but never came home. It's called the Missing Man Table and can be seen in many veterans gathering places. There's a poem, too, which is inspiring. I don't know who wrote it, but here is my favorite version, which describes the table set for those who won't be returning better than I could ever explain:

"Each item on the Missing Man Table represents the emotions and feelings reserved for those who did not come home. The ceremony symbolizes that they are with us, here in spirit. All Americans should never forget the brave men and women who answered our nation's call to serve and fought for our freedom with honor.

"This is the symbolism of the Missing Man Table: The table is round, to show our unending concern for our missing comrades.

"The cloth is white, to symbolize the purity of their motives when answering the call to serve.

"The single red rose, displayed in a vase, reminds us of the loves of these patriots and their friends and loved ones who keep the faith while seeking answers.

"The red ribbon symbolizes our continued determination to account for those still missing.

"A slice of lemon reminds us of their bitter fate; captured and missing in a foreign land.

"A pinch of salt represents the tears of our missing comrades and their families, who long for answers even after decades of uncertainty.

"The candle reflects our hope for their return, even if they are no longer living.

"The Good Book reflects the strength gained through faith to sustain us and those lost from our country, founded as one nation under God.

"The glass is inverted, emphasizing the fallen's inability to share a toast with those for whom they fought.

"And the chair is empty, unclaimed but reserved to welcome them, should they return."

Anyone is welcome to come see the table at the VFW. I suggest you go take a look. It's a moving experience.

Pete Radosevich is the publisher of the Pine Knot News and an attorney in Esko who hosts the cable access talk show Harry's Gang on CAT-7. His opinions are his own. Contact him at [email protected].