Joe D'Entremont, a locksmith from Boston and a member of Rolling Thunder Inc., noticed that a seat at the NASCAR track in Bristol, Tennessee, was left purposefully empty to remind people of service members who had been prisoners of war and those who are still missing. Inspired by that gesture, he was determined to make Massachusetts the first state in the nation to have POW-MIA chairs in all of its professional sports venues.
D'Entremont began his quest at Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots football team and New England Revolution soccer team. His proposal for an honor chair received enthusiastic support from Robert Kraft, the owner of both teams and the stadium. Kraft introduced D'Entremont to Hussey Seating Co., based in North Berwick, Maine, and Hussey agreed to donate a black Fusion seat. On Veterans Day 2012, Gillette Stadium became the first professional sports stadium with "one empty seat," a POW-MIA Chair of Honor.
The next target was TD Garden, the arena where the Boston Celtics basketball team and Boston Bruins hockey team play. D'Entremont secured an agreement there and reached out to Hussey again. Then on July 4, 2013, a Chair of Honor was placed in Fenway Park, home field for the Boston Red Sox baseball team.
Today POW-MIA honor chairs can be found not only in big sports stadiums but also in small-town city halls and a variety of public spaces in between. I created a plan to put honor chairs in and around Philadelphia. Now we have more than 40 of them in the Philadelphia area.
Accompanying each chair is a plaque with these words: "You are not forgotten. Since World War I, more than 92,000 American soldiers are unaccounted for. This unoccupied seat is dedicated to the memory of these brave men and women and to the sacrifices each made in serving this country. God Bless You. God Bless America."
Information on the POW-MIA Chair of Honor Program can be found at POWMIAChairofHonor.org.
Patrick J. Hughes is a professional photographer and combat veteran who served with Marine Air Group 12 in Vietnam, January 1967-February 1968. This article first appeared in Vietnam magazine.