Remembering the Fallen

By Damian Trujillo
|  Sunday, Apr 17, 2011  |  Updated 10:02 AM PDT
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Remembering the Fallen

Damian Trujillo

This table is used in a moving Missing Soldier’s Ceremony for the fallen who didn't make it home from the war zone.

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Dozens of Veterans gathered in the South Bay this weekend for a tribute to those who served, but never returned.

The exhibition hall at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds in San Jose was packed with veterans and the agencies who want to help them. 

A partial list of the benefits those veterans have earned:

  • Health care.
  • Counseling.
  • Job training.
  • And many others.

It was the 6th annual Veterans Resource Faire put on by the San Jose Vet Center.

"If you run into any red tape (in seeking benefits), you let us know and we will cut it for you," South Bay Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren told the crowd.

The American GI Forum had a table. So did the American Legion, and the Santa Clara County Health Services.

The information tables were crammed with veterans and their families, some learning for the first time in 45 years about their benefits.

There was one table in particular that caught this reporter’s eye. In fact, there’s doubt that image will ever disappear.

It was a round table adorned with a white table cloth.

The table was set for five.

One single candle was lit.

One red rose decorated the table, but the chairs were empty.

The wine glasses turned upside down. And on the plates lay five formal hats.

  1. One representing the Army.
  2. One for the Marines.
  3. One for the Navy.
  4. Another for the Air Force.
  5. And a fifth for the U.S. Coast Guard.

Mike Salas, a Vietnam Veteran from San Jose, then went into one of the most eloquent and emotional ceremonies this reporter has ever witnessed.

Salas called it the "Missing Soldier’s Ceremony." It was dedicated to the servicemembers who never returned from combat.

I asked Salas for a copy of his poetry.

Salas kindly declined, saying some day he will publish the words, and let everyone read them.

But from the 12-minute ceremony, we learned the salt on the table represented the tears shed by an anguished mother who won’t see her son again.

The upside down wine glasses represented the toast those missing in action won’t be able to share.
 
And the candle, a symbol of hope that those who didn’t return will some day find their way home.

Symbolism and poetry never meshed so well, as when Mike Salas opened his notes and his soul to those who witnessed his tribute to this nation’s heroes.

On a trip to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C. four years ago, I blogged about three American heroes who went on the trip with me to The Wall.

Upon reading my post, my father in law, Mike Gomez, raised an eyebrow and his voice, asking why I called him and his two Vietnam veteran buddies heroes.

"The real heroes are the ones on that wall," Mike told me. The ones who didn’t come home.

I write this post, thanks to the freedoms awarded me by the First Amendment, freedoms  that veterans like Mike and his buddies, and every other service member fought for.

So I raise my glass with a trembling hand and lump in my throat, to those who couldn’t make it to that beautiful table in the middle of a crowded exhibition hall, and I say "Thank You."
 

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