One empty chair — a symbol of someone who is missing — can be a powerful statement.
Visitors to the Bethany Beach boardwalk will soon have a constant reminder of those who could not be there to celebrate summer, to put their toes in the sand and their faces in the ocean spray. Thanks to the Chair of Honor project, there will be one empty chair beneath the boardwalk flag pole, in honor of military service members who are still missing, who never returned home to their families.
A dedication ceremony for the chair will be held by the flag pole at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 7, according to project spokesperson Rosely Robinson. The chair, donated by the Maine-based Hussey Seating Co., serves as a reminder of those who not only gave the ultimate sacrifice but whose families have never been able to say a final goodbye.
Robinson, who also is the Delaware director for A Hero’s Welcome, said the Chair of Honor project has been spreading across the country for several years and she wanted to bring it to Delaware.
“It has just kind of become my passion,” Robinson said.
While her work with A Hero’s Welcome focuses on easing service members’ transition after returning from service overseas, she said, “It’s awful — the ones that never come home. Those poor families never get closure.”
Other Chair of Honor locations in Delaware include Cabela’s at Christiana Mall, Dover Downs, Blue Rock Stadium, the Vietnam Memorial Park in Dover, and veterans’ cemeteries in Millsboro and Bear. The Bethany Beach location will be the first seaside placement, Robinson said.
As the plaque that will accompany the chair states, since World War I, 91,000 servicemen remain unaccounted for. Robinson said she hopes that the chairs will keep their service and their sacrifice in the forefront of people’s minds.
“I think we should teach everybody” about the ones who never returned, said Robinson, a native of Brazil who became a citizen of the United States at the age of 18.
The Chair of Honor project is sponsored by the Rolling Thunder veterans’ motorcyclist group. Along with representatives of Rolling Thunder and other veterans’ groups, as well as state and local dignitaries, the public is being invited to the Sept. 7 ceremony.
Participants, in addition to Delaware National Guard, include Bethany Beach Mayor Jack Gordon and Brig. Gen. Michael Berry, Land Component Commander of the Delaware National Guard, who will speak. Rebecca Bristow, Miss Teen Milford, will perform the national anthem. Robinson said Bristow has taken on POW/MIA awareness as her pageant platform.
Also on hand will be Patrick Hughes, national photographer for the Rolling Thunder, who has been very active in the Chair of Honor project nationwide.
“Outside of their families and close friends, they have been forgotten,” Robinson said of those still listed as prisoners-of-war and missing-in-action. “When you have a military funeral, the American flag is taken off and respectfully folded and handed to the next to kin. With the POW and MIA, they don’t have anything — no closure. All they have are memories of their loved ones.”
So far, more than 460 Chairs of Honor have been installed across the United States, 15 of which are in Delaware.