Maggie Burdette knows all too well the sacrifices of military service. She gave 10 years of her life to the U.S. Navy and, in 2006, lost a brother-in-law in the Iraq War. To her, Memorial Day is no holiday from the occasion’s somber meaning.
To show her respect for veterans who never came home from war, Burdette, Manager of Business Process Improvement Strategy, set up a “Missing Man Table” near her work area on the 10th floor of Reliable Plaza. From the empty chair to the single red rose to the white tablecloth, everything at the table evokes a poignant tribute to the suffering and loss inflicted by war.
“It’s a military tradition,” Burdette says, pointing to the small table set against exteriors of cubicles. “This is a reminder of Memorial Day. This is personal to me.”
On the cubicle walls facing passersby, Burdette posted printouts explaining the symbolism of the Missing Man Table, which originally represented America’s observance of Vietnam era POWs and soldiers listed as missing in action. Also adorning the space are a poem called Final Roll Call, a dirge to America’s fallen warriors, and bios of three soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Burdette paid tribute to Air Force Master Sgt. Brad Allen Clemmons, her late brother-in-law, while Vince Preston, Director of Fleet & Facilities, offered his respects to Marine Warrant Officer Charles G. Wells Jr., who was killed Iraq in 2005. Wells was an Orange County Fire & Rescue recruit Preston had trained in 2004.
David Driver, Manager of Safety, shared his personal connection to Memorial Day with a remembrance of a covert war that claimed the life of a young airman he never knew. Joel H. Fields, 20, and 16 C-130 crew members disappeared in 1958 while on a surveillance mission near Soviet territory. Eight years later Driver was born into a family that wouldn’t know for more than 30 years what had happened to Fields and some of his crewmates.
The older brother of Driver’s mother, Fields was a casualty of the Cold War. He was on a reconnaissance flight shot down by Soviet MiG fighter jets, a conflict neither superpower would acknowledge until years had passed.
“He was listed as missing in Soviet Armenia,” Driver says of Fields. “He was MIA for a long time.”
In 1997, the remains of Fields and some of his crewmen on that ill-fated mission were interred in a common grave at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Driver, his mother and aunt, along with family members of other crew members, attended the ceremony.
“These men died defending our country,” says Driver.
Remembering U.S. service members claimed by war, that’s what Burdette set out to do in a tiny space on the 10th floor. She hopes to bring back the Missing Man Table and Final Roll Call salute next Memorial Day.
“It’s a respectful way to honor family and friends no matter what war they fought in and where it was fought,” she says.