Niagara Gazette

November 15, 2012

HAMILTON: The set table and the empty chair - Niagara's youth remembers MIAs

By Ken Hamilton
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Beneath the towering pillars of the Niagara Falls Veterans Memorial Monument there sits a dark sarcophagus that bear the names of those who have given their lives in service to our nation. On either side of that central monument are the gray granite Walls of Honor, whereupon the names of those veterans who have served and survived both the war and the peace are inscribed; and standing in two columns before both monuments are the eight individual black polished granite stones that stand straight and tall, with seven inscribed and one in-waiting for Niagara’s next super-hero.

Those monuments represent the Niagarans who have exemplified themselves by exhibiting extraordinary dedication and bravery, and are recognized as recipients of our nation’s highest military citation, the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Did you know that the city of Niagara Falls has a higher per capita of Medal of Honor recipients than the national average? We Niagarans have not only been eager to exemplarily serve each other in our communities, but we have also stood brave in the defense of our country, as exemplified by the many names therein inscribed.

We commissioners, who are responsible for building the monument, are getting gray and thinning in the head, as well as long and vacant in the tooth; and, quite frankly, we have had some concerns on who will continue to do the work that we once started and will grow too feeble to continue.

But like the mists that rise from the basin beneath the falls, so rises the next generation of dedicated Niagara citizens that love and respect both our city and our United States Military. They are the Niagara Youth Marine Cadets, often confused with the Western New York Young Marines, and they have worked with us every step of the way during our Memorial and Veterans Day ceremonies, helping to make those events even more successful.

Not only am I impressed with the quality contributions of time and effort that they have brought to us, but I am also impressed what they do for the veterans who never made it home.

Each year, some area restaurants have offered free meals to veterans on Veterans Day, an excellent way of saying thank you. But the Niagara Falls Ponderosa Restaurant at 8612 Niagara Falls Boulevard goes one step further. There, they have set up a table in honor of our American Prisoners of War and those Missing in Actions who have not yet returned, and Captain Elizabeth Springer’s group ceremoniously stands guard over the set table and the empty seat.

One of the greatest joys that I have is in watching those tearful family members who now have a place to come and reflect back upon the names inscribed upon our standing tables of granite at the monument in the park. But this Veterans Day, it was equaled by the tearful watching the young men and women who stood standing by the table that was set for those who are not yet there, and all of our ability to reflect upon them.

Best regards to Ponderosa manager and Navy veteran Chip Schmidt and his fine crew, as well as to the Niagara Youth Marine Cadets; those who represent our future commissioners.

Contact Ken Hamilton at