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Empty chair at Philly City Hall honors U.S. military veterans missing inaction

The POW/MIA "National Chair of Honor” was unveiled in a ceremony on Monday.
At Philadelphia City Hall on Monday, Mayor Jim Kenney, second from right, helped install the POW/MIA National Chair of Honor. Photo by Patrick J. Hughes

The black chair installed in Philadelphia City Hall will forever remain empty, a silent testament to the thousands of American war veterans still considered missing in action.

Called the POW/MIA "National Chair of Honor,” it was unveiled in a ceremony on Monday, and dedicated to the memory of service  members, and the sacrifices they made.

“It’s the right thing to do,” said Patrick Hughes, a Marine Corps veteran. Hughes is a photographer with Rolling Thunder, a national nonprofit dedicated to preserving the memory of American prisoners of war and those missing in action of all wars.

“Every veteran has earned the absolute right to come home,” Hughes said.

It was the latest installation of a memorial chair that has been placed in dozens of sports venues and other locations in Massachusetts, and now includes several in the Philadelphia area. Locally, those include Lincoln Financial Field, Citizens Bank Park, Wells Fargo Center and Temple University’s Liacouras Center. Even St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi Church in South Philly has an entire pew dedicated to the POW/MIA.

Mayor Jim Kenney joined Congressman Bob Brady at the city hall unveiling, along with members of City Council and local veterans.

“We are trying to place these chairs in places of prominence to show that the government, knowingly or unknowingly, has left people behind,” Hughes said in an interview Wednesday. “An empty chair is an instant reminder [of that].”

Hughes has helped bring more than 40 of the memorial chairs to the tri-state area. A planned Memorial Day ceremony to install a Chair of Honor in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol in Washington will now take place later this year.

In all, there is an estimated 83,000 U.S. service members still listed as missing in action since World War II.

The Chair of Honor program was started by Joe D’Entremont, a locksmith from Boston, and a fellow Rolling Thunder member. He came up with the idea after seeing a seat left vacant for service members at a racing event in Bristol, Tennessee. D’Entremont, who could not be reached for this article due to personal health issues, was determined to bring similar chairs to sporting venues throughout Massachusetts. The first was placed at Gillette Stadium in 2012.

Since then, more than 100 chairs have been placed throughout D’Entremont’s home state, including one at Fenway Park in Boston.