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The POW-MIA Ceremony is generally used in conjunction with the opening of a dinner function. It originated with several of the ROTC and JROTC units in Florida and there are many different versions. Groups who use the ceremony modify it to suit their local requirements.
For example, JROTC units often do not have access to hats and do not use them. Sometimes there are not enough people to do all five services so four are honored, instead.
The basic ceremony is provided below. There is a narrative section followed by an annotated script. Note that the script contains several suggestions for actions by the Honor Guard, which are in addition to those of the narrative. You should be selective and develop an approach, which works for the time and resources available to you.
This ceremony has many symbols.
Below is a list of the materials needed to complete the ceremony.
If you cannot find something to represent a symbol then omit that section of the ceremony.
The music for the ceremony is AMAZING GRACE, preferably performed by a Drum & Bagpipe Corps. A tape of the music is satisfactory. It is started just before you begin to read the part, “LET US REMEMBER THEN UNITED STATES AIR FORCE …”
4 pair of white gloves
Music – AMAZING GRACE
Small bread plate
Black ribbon (tied to candle)
Framed, faded picture
Red rose in a vase
4 Table settings
Slice of lemon
Lighter or Matches
*Caps for Air Force, Army, Navy, Marine Corps (and Coast Guard if that branch is to be honored)
(NOTE: You may wish to add the Coast Guard as one additional
branch of service. If you do, then make the appropriate
adjustments in the instructions and script.)
You will need four members to participate as the Honor Guard
(in addition to the narrator). They will bring out the wheel
caps of the four military branches as they are recognized in
the ceremony. All movements in this ceremony are slow and
remorseful. There should be no jerky movements. The only
sharp movement will be the facing movement at the end to
leave the table after setting it. Hold the wheel cap in
the right hand with fingers holding the rim. Your arm should
be cradling the cap as you form an “L” from your shoulder to
your elbow to your hand. It should rest on the forearm.
Once at the table, the Honor Guard members will slowly bring
the left hand up and over the wheel cap to have the fingers
at “5 o’clock”. Once there, the cap is pivoted on the tips
of the fingers of the right hand so the wheel cap is now
facing toward the Honor Guard member. There will be a slow
bend at the waist to place the cap on the table. Once there,
the member will slowly straighten up and slow salute the cap
still keeping their eyes caged on the cap. After holding the
salute for about four beats, slowly drop the salute and look
straight ahead, eyes caged.
As the script is read, the Honor Guard will initiate some
of the symbolic actions. Suggestions for these are included
in the script below.
The narrator should try to memorize parts of the ceremony and
practice making eye contact with the audience. This is very
important as the narrator will set the tone for the mood of
the ceremony. They should take a deep breath and pause before
speaking each section.
Retiring the Table
You may wish to retire the POW-MIA table at the end of the night.
This is usually done before or during the closing comments by the
Master of Ceremonies. The Honor Guard will come in again at funeral
march pace and stand behind their respective wheel caps. One person
will blow out the candle and stand upright. All four will salute at
the same time slowly and will hold the salute. The music of TAPS
will then be played. When the music is over the four will slowly
order arms. The Honor Guard commander will then call a “Post” and
“Forward, March.” The Honor Guard will then slowly march out of
the room. A suggested script is provided below.
Music recording of TAPS or someone to play TAPS on a bugle or trumpet
POW-MIA CEREMONY SUGGESTED SCRIPT
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, PLEASE DIRECT YOUR ATTENTION TO THE CENTER OF OUR GATHERING.
(Off-stage cassette player plays "Amazing Grace" performed by bag pipes)
YOU MAY HAVE NOTICED THE TABLE SET BEFORE YOU.
IT IS FILLED WITH SYMBOLISM. I WILL EXPLAIN.
THIS TABLE IS SET FOR OUR PRISONERS OF WAR AND THOSE MISSING IN ACTION -- FROM ALL WARS.
THEY ARE NOT WITH US TODAY.
THEIR CHAIRS ARE EMPTY, BUT SAVED FOR THEIR HOPED RETURN.
LET US REMEMBER THEIR ABSENCE.
(As the individual service is announced, a cadet enters with
the appropriate wheel hat, places it on the table, and remains
until the end of the ceremony)
LET US REMEMBER THE UNITED STATES AIR FORCE, HONORED BY
(Cadet enters with Air Force wheel hat and places it on the
LET US REMEMBER THE UNITED STATES ARMY, HONORED BY
(Cadet enters with Army wheel hat and places it on the table)
LET US REMEMBER THE UNITED STATES NAVY, HONORED BY CADET ___________.
(Cadet enters with Navy wheel hat and places it on the table)
LET US REMEMBER THE UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS, HONORED BY CADET ___________.
(Cadet enters with Marine Corps wheel hat and places it on the table)
LET US REMEMBER THE UNITED STATES COAST GUARD, HONORED BY
(Cadet enters with Coast Guard wheel hat and places it
on the table)
LET US REMEMBER THE MEN AND WOMEN PRISONERS OF WAR FROM ALL
BRANCHES OF SERVICE THAT ARE TOO OFTEN FORGOTTEN. LET US
THE TABLE CLOTH IS WHITE, SYMBOLIZING THE PURITY OF THEIR
INTENTIONS TO RESPOND TO THEIR COUNTRY'S CALL TO ARMS -- SO
THAT THEIR CHILDREN COULD REMAIN FREE. REMEMBER.
THE LONE CANDLE SYMBOLIZES THE FRAILTY OF A PRISONER ALONE,
TRYING TO STAND UP AGAINST HIS OPPRESSORS. REMEMBER.
(A cadet lights the candle)
THE BLACK RIBBON ON THE CANDLE REMINDS US OF THOSE WHO WILL NOT
BE COMING HOME. REMEMBER
THE SINGLE ROSE REMINDS US OF THE LOVED ONES AND FAMILIES OF OUR
COMRADES IN ARMS WHO KEEP THE FAITH AND AWAIT THEIR
A SLICE OF LEMON IS ON THE BREAD PLATE TO REMIND US OF THEIR
BITTER FATE -- IF WE DO NOT BRING THEM HOME. REMEMBER
(A cadet slices a lemon and places a slice on each bread plate)
THERE IS SALT ON THE PLATE, SYMBOLIC OF THE FAMILY'S
TEARS AS THEY WAIT AND REMEMBER.
(A cadet shakes salt onto each bread plate)
THE GLASSES ARE INVERTED. THEY CANNOT TOAST WITH US TONIGHT -- MAYBE TOMORROW, IF WE REMEMBER.
(The cadets execute a slow bend at the waist and pick up the wineglasses to eye level.
At the word, “INVERTED”, the Honor Guard members quickly flip the
wineglasses upside down with a twist of the wrist. Then slowly bring
down the wineglasses to the table inverted.)
THE RED, WHITE AND BLUE RIBBON IS TIED
TO THE FLOWER VASE BY A YELLOW RIBBON THAT WAS WORN BY THOUSANDS WHO
AWAITED THEIR RETURN. REMEMBER
THE FADED PICTURE ON THE TABLE IS A REMINDER THAT THEY ARE MISSED
VERY MUCH AND ARE REMEMBERED BY THEIR FAMILIES. REMEMBER.
AS WE LOOK UPON THIS EMPTY TABLE, DO NOT REMEMBER GHOSTS FROM THE
PAST, REMEMBER OUR COMRADES.
REMEMBER THOSE WHOM WE DEPENDED ON IN BATTLE. THEY DEPEND ON US TO
BRING THEM HOME.
REMEMBER OUR FRIENDS. THEY ARE THE ONES WE LOVE -- WHO LOVE LIFE AND
FREEDOM AS WE DO.
THEY WILL REMEMBER WHAT WE DO. PLEASE HONOR AND REMEMBER THEM.
(The Honor Guard executes a slow salute together.
They hold it approximately 10 seconds after the music has ended.
Afterwards, the members slowly order arms and the Honor Guard
commander will call “POST” and the members will execute a Left or
Right Face. (Whichever is more convenient). “Forward March” will
then move the members out of the room in a slow fashion.)
SUGGESTED SCRIPT FOR RETIRING THE TABLE
(One cadet approaches the table ready to extinguish the candle.
If the hats are to be retired as well, the entire Honor Guard should
enter with one identified to extinguish the candle.)
AS CADET _______________ EXTINGUISHES THIS CANDLE, LET US TRANSFER
IT'S FLAME TO OUR HEARTS -- AND REMEMBER.
(Cadet extinguishes the candle and retreats.)
If you have more questions regarding this ceremony, you may contact
the General Robert M. White Squadron of the Arnold Air Society at
the University of Central Florida Air Force ROTC in Orlando, Florida.
(407) 823-2659 or (407) 823-1247.