HANSON — As the community’s veterans assembled for an annual breakfast in salute to their service Thursday, Nov. 7, one table remained unoccupied.
For the first time, The Empty Table salute to missing in action and POWs, was included in the Veterans Day Breakfast program, catered by the Old Hitching Post, at the Hanson Senior Center.
An empty chair awaiting the return of the lost or fallen at a round table, symbolizing everlasting concern survivors have for the missing, was covered in a white tablecloth for the pure intention of service to country. A single red rose, representing blood shed in war and an inverted glass for the fact that the missing and fallen who cannot partake of the meal were placed on the table.
The plate contained a slice of lemon for the bitter taste of missing loved ones and salt for the tears shed by waiting families. A bible represented faith to sustain the lost.
A special guest, Vietnam veteran William “Bill” Hooker was asked to light the candle by Veterans Agent Timothy White, who placed his Coast Guard dress cap on the table in honor of the recently repatriated remains of a Coast Guardsman who died as a prisoner of the Japanese during WWII.
“The table is reserved to honor our missing comrades and bothers in arms and shipmates … who left behind loved ones — mothers, husbands, wives, children — families who might never know how or where their loved ones made the supreme sacrifice,” White said.
Nearly 87,000 Americans from all branches of the armed services remain unaccounted for during wars over the last 100 years.
Lt. Thomas J. Crotty was repatriated for burial in Buffalo, N.Y., on Saturday, Nov. 2. The Coast Guardsman had been an explosives expert send to work in the Philippines to help set up a minefield in Manila Bay before the outbreak of WWII. When U.S. forces surrendered after the Empire of Japan attacked the Philippines and Americans ran out of ammunition. Crotty was the first Coast Guardsman to be taken prisoner of war since the War of 1812, and died of diphtheria in 1942, because there was no medicine with which to treat him. He was buried in a mass grave outside the prison camp along with nearly 3,000 other Americans.
At some point, the Americans’ remains were moved to an American cemetery in Manila.
Lt. Crotty had been awarded the Philippines Medal of Honor and about 10 years ago family members began searching for him with a DNA sample, eventually finding a match.
Those attending the Hanson breakfast observed a moment of silence for Crotty and all other still-missing servicemen.
Hooker is a member and vice president of the Jarheads Motorcycle Club, which lost seven members in a horrific crash on a New Hampshire highway June 21.
White passed the condolences of Hanson and its veterans to the Marine veteran before Hooker was asked to say a few words and light the candle on the Empty Table.
“I’m really not a public speaker,” Hooker said. “I just really wanted to let you know what we do and what we stand for.”
He said the motorcycle club is a nonprofit that raises funds to support veterans.
“We’re the good guys,” he said, noting the driver charged in the crash has been indicted on more than 23 counts. “It was a horrific day and I escaped … I happened to make it through it for some reason. I don’t know why.”
He said the club has retained lawyers from New York who are working to “make everybody whole.”
The ceremony was a departure from previous years, when certificates of service were handed out to veterans, White said, noting he opted to include veterans in the program instead.
“Many of you in this room have had incredible life experiences and are truly heroes, but quietly go about living your life,” White said. “You receive little fanfare. Events in history, which you have lived through and participated in — things that you have experienced, that your family may not even know about — in my role as Veterans Service officer … it is truly eye-opening to know so many incredible people and their personal stories.
“And they live right here in a small town, just going about living their daily life, trying to live the American experience,” White said.
American Legion Historian Larry Mills opened the program by leading the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by a prayer offered by Air Force veteran the Rev. Michael Hobson of the St. Joseph the Worker Church.
Navy veteran Ernest Jutras was then asked to read Gov. Charlie Baker’s Veterans Day proclamation. Jutras also accepted a Commonwealth flag on behalf of the Senior Center from state Rep. Josh Cutler, D-Duxbury.
“Days like this are important to recognize the sacrifices that our veterans have made, but it’s also important to back up those symbols with actual programs and support,” Cutler said stressing that he, state Sen. Mike Brady, D-Brockton, and White are there to help.
White read “Old Glory,” a first-person literary “autobiography” of the American flag.
“I have been a silent witness to all of America’s finest hours, but my finest hour comes when I’m torn into strips to be used as bandages for my wounded comrades on the field of battle, when I fly half-staff to honor my soldiers and when I lie in the trembling arms of a grieving mother at the gravesite of her fallen son or daughter,” White read.
The Senior Center’s chorus, the Swinging Singers rounded out the program with a performance of patriotic songs.