Remember the empty chair

Published 9:06 pm Monday, August 17, 2015

By Rep. Randy Forbes

Today is not Veterans Day. It’s not Memorial Day, or the Fourth of July.

On those days, America pauses to recognize service members, honor the fallen and reflect on the sacrifices of those who have worn this country’s uniform both past and present. We hold parades and memorial services. We stop to say thank you. We remember why this nation is great, and why it is free.


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But many families don’t need a special day to remember. They have a visible reminder, every day, of the sacrifices made by our men and women in uniform: They have an empty chair.

It’s a simple thing, but what it represents is powerful. For some families, it means Mommy or Daddy won’t be sitting at the dinner table, talking about report cards or after-school activities or the trip to Grandma’s next month.

For other families, it stands for loss and pain, but it is also a quiet tribute to the pride, honor, and heroism of those who serve, and the families who sacrifice so much for this nation. For these Americans, every day is Veterans Day. Every day is Memorial Day.

The empty chair may not be at your table or mine tonight, but it holds enormous meaning for all U.S. citizens. It represents why we have the freedom to bow our heads and pray, to think as we choose, to vote as we believe and to carve out our own destinies. It symbolizes what makes this nation great: individuals who answer the call of duty and put country above self, individuals who would rather fight and die free than go quietly into the night.

There is no higher call for Americans here at home than for us to defend our defenders. As the men and women of the U.S. military protect and defend this nation on the front lines, we have the duty and the honor of having their backs here at home. How we treat those who have worn this country’s uniform is part of what defines us as a nation.

That’s one of the biggest reasons I serve in Congress. It’s what keeps me up at night and is at the forefront of my mind as I serve as chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee. I have no greater priority than ensuring our service members are properly equipped to carry out their mission, return home safely, and receive the care and support they deserve.

Accomplishing that effectively includes a lot of things: It means holding the Department of Veterans Affairs accountable for the service it delivers to our heroes. It includes assisting homeless and struggling veterans with finding meaningful employment and providing reintegration programs. It means hiring more heroes and working to strengthen support and care for our veteran’s grappling with PTS or mental health issues.

It also means ensuring our men and women on the front lines are the best trained and best equipped in the world, and it means putting national security and our service members’ well-being above politics.

Much more remains to be done to make sure our heroes receive the support and care they both deserve and have earned. The effort must be ongoing – informing our decisions and topping our priority list. Our heroes deserve nothing less.

For most of us, today will just be an ordinary day. But let’s take a moment to pause in gratitude for the men and women who wear this country’s uniform and sacrifice so we might live in freedom and in peace. Let us pause in gratitude for the many tables where a place setting will be skipped tonight at dinner and a chair will be empty. Because not only do their sacrifices make this country great, they keep this country free.

Congressman J. Randy Forbes represents Virginia’s Fourth District, which includes Suffolk, in the U.S. House of Representatives. Visit his website at