When my husband and I first starting dating, I had a lot to learn about his job, military jargon and traditions, and what I would find out over time was this nation's larger "military family." The first time I attended a Military Police Ball, I was completely unprepared for the emotions stirred up by the obvious esprit de corps and respect and regard for service and rank. I had merely worried over whether or not my gown was appropriate, and if I would be welcomed into the fold or treated as a civilian outsider.
We had our photos taken, went through the receiving line, and found our table, though we did not sit until invited to do so by the call to dinner. At the beginning of the event, introductory comments were shared, glasses were charged (filled with wine), and toasts were made, including this one:
Perhaps as you entered the hall this evening, you noticed a small table, set for one, in a place of honor. The military caste is filled with symbolism; this table is our way of symbolizing the fact that members of our proud profession are missing from our midst, unable to be with us this evening. It symbolizes those killed or missing in action. We call these soldiers our comrades.
This table, set for one, is small. It symbolizes the face of one of our own and the singular life given in defense of our nation.
The tablecloth is white, symbolizing the purity of our comrade's intentions to respond to our country's call to arms.
The single rose, displayed in a vase, reminds us of the family and loved ones of our comrade-in-arms who keep the faith, awaiting the return of those who are prisoners of war or missing in action.
The yellow ribbon tied so prominently on the vase, is reminiscent of the yellow ribbon worn upon the lapels and breasts of thousands who bear witness with their unyielding determination to demand a proper accounting of our missing soldiers.
A slice of lemon is on the bread plate, symbolizing our comrade's bitter fate.
There is salt upon the bread plate, symbolic of the tears shed by the comrade's family.
The wine glass is inverted. Our comrade cannot toast with us tonight.
The chair is empty, for our comrade will not be joining us.
Remember our fallen comrades, for surely, they have not forsaken you.
Ladies and gentlemen, if you have not done so, please charge your glasses with water: wine is not a luxury our comrades can enjoy.
Ladies and gentlemen, I propose a toast, to our fallen comrades, prisoners of war, and those missing in action."
At which point glasses were quietly raised toward the table, guests remained silent, and Taps was played.
I have never made it through an MP Ball without crying. I expect I never will.