A long-running US military tradition is the POW/MIA table. While often a discrete event at formal functions such as military dinings-in, many dining facilities maintain a continuous POW/MIA table within their facilities. There are actually many variations on the display, though one of the more common ones follows:
The table is round – to show our everlasting concern for our missing men (and women).
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 yellow 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 symbolized the tears endured by those missing and their families who seek answers.
(Optional) The Bible represents the strength gained through faith to sustain those lost from our country, founded as one nation under God.
This glass is inverted – to symbolize their inability to share this evening‘s (morning‘s/day‘s) toast.
The chairs are empty – they are missing.
The recently promoted Chief Master Sergeant — a military atheist with his “own little battles” of religion in the Air Force — took issue when he saw this display in his local dining facility, which included the Bible:
First visit to the DFAC, and I discover that every single POW in US history was apparently a Christian or Catholic.
Despite his long and illustrious career, the Chief has apparently never seen this version of the display before — or realized it was specifically authorized by Air Force guidance. The script of the ceremony above comes from AFPAM 34-1202, Guide to Protocol, which was updated just this year.
So the Chief complained to Military Equal Opportunity and the Inspector General. Because there was a Bible on the table.
Two younger enlisted troops suggested to their superior Chief that he surreptitiously contribute other material to the traditional display:
From a young soldier:
I’d (discreetly) plop a Book of Morman [sic], a Torah, a Koran, and The Portable Atheist on top of that Bible. Juuuust to make a point.
And an enlisted Air Force paralegal:
And the satanic bible. Im sure that would make them rethink their position.
Keep in mind that they’re talking about a solemn display intended to memorialize captured and missing American troops. This is how the Chief reminds them of the gravity of what the display is intended to commemorate:
I have a Quran, Gospel of the FSM, and some Buddhist literature to contribute to the table!
Classy. A 20-year Chief Master Sergeant joins the younger enlisted troops in mocking a memorial to the sacrifices of US troops captured and missing in war.
Whether you agree with the inclusion of a Bible or not, there’s no reason concerns cannot be communicated in a professional manner. There’s also no reason a Chief Master Sergeant, who clearly presented himself as such to the group, shouldn’t advise the troops subordinate to him to maintain professionalism even if they disagree.
To be fair, there’s a reason Bibles are included in many POW/MIA displays: Religious faith is one of the most commonly cited tools of resilience that helped POWs through their captivity.
For example, the longest-held enlisted Prisoner of War in American history — US Air Force Capt (Ret) William Robinson, said
I lived on what I referred to as faith. There were four. One was faith in myself. Two was faith in those around me. Three was faith in my country. And four was faith in my God.
The Chief doesn’t have to like the fact Capt Robinson relied on his “sky fairy” through his captivity. He doesn’t have to agree with the Bible on the table. But he could at least show professional courtesy and a modicum of respect, as well as encourage that in those who are clearly looking to him for guidance:
Chief, keep us updated on what you do.
Ultimately, the Chief complained to EO and the IG — who both said the display was acceptable. The Chief seemed disappointed:
After consultation, the EO and IG concur that regulations allow the senior commander the option to display the KJV Bible despite complaints, the absence of other sectarian tomes, or any secular purpose.
But he found a fellow antagonist in atheist-agitator Jason Torpy, who is never one to pass up an opportunity to be offended — or see a Christian conspiracy. Torpy said it was
Definitely an egregious example of Christian nation evangelism written into military regulations.
Right. Somebody put the Bible on the POW/MIA table not because of its symbolic significance, but to convert people to Christianity. Despite the illogical basis for his offense, Torpy also called it
red meat for Paul Loebe and Blake Page
who are the current Marine Sergeant and West Point dropout, respectively, most publicly representing Michael Weinstein’s MRFF. Because, as the nation saw with Chaplain (LtCol) Reyes, the MRFF isn’t defending religious freedom — it is attacking even the slightest reference to “faith” with which they do not agree.
Remember, too, that Weinstein claims Christians are the persecutors and non-Christians the “victims” in the US military — yet repeated examples seem to show the script reversed.
Learn about Capt Robinson’s story here, courtesy of the US Air Force. To date, the Air Force has not censored Capt Robinson’s references to “faith,” but there’s still time for Weinstein to make his case.