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America’s White Table

By Margot Theis Raven
Sleeping Bear Press

As a military spouse, I’ve attended several formal dinners that included a small table, draped with a white cloth and set with an empty glass, and a plate holding salt and a wedge of lemon. The table is meant to serve as a reminder to those present, that not everyone is present, and honor those military members who have been declared Missing in Action (MIA) or taken as Prisoners of War (POWs) in our nation’s conflicts.

I was intrigued to learn that the MIA/POW table was the subject of Margot Theis Raven’s book, America’s White Table, and offered to review it because I was curious to see this military tradition explained through a children’s book.

Now, let me preface my first impressions by confessing, up front, that I’m a terribly unsentimental person. My initial thought, after a quick read-through, was that it was a little on the ‘sappy’ side. The refrain ‘It was just a little, white table…’ was repeated on almost every page, and seemed melodramatic. The lyrics to ‘My Country ‘Tis of Thee’ were super-imposed over the bottom of the story, and I thought it was a little distracting.

But on the whole, I was excited that someone had written about this tradition, and was eager to share the story with my kids. I decided to get my husband’s opinion on it (he’s an active duty Air Force member), and since he isn’t a big reader (even of children’s books), I told him I would read it out loud.

During this second, slower, more thoughtful reading, I found myself absorbing a little more of the author’s intent behind the fictional story; a mother explains the ‘white table’ to her young daughters on Veteran’s Day, as they prepare dinner and wait for their uncle to arrive. The mother shares the story of the uncle’s experience, as a POW, and one of the daughters has the realization that each and every MIA and POW is a real person, just like her ‘Uncle John’.

And I choked up.

I looked over at my burly, veteran husband, and he had tears in his eyes, too.

America’s White Table does a good job of providing a simple explanation of the military tradition of the MIA/POW table. It also has a good deal of background information, in the author’s note, to give older children and adults a deeper understanding of how the tradition started.

But most importantly, it’s a poignant reminder that those who suffered imprisonment, or a fate unknown while in the service of our country’s armed forces, deserve to be remembered.

-Product Review by Jill Hardy, The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, LLC, June, 2006

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