LIMA — When Lima Senior High School plays a home football game, fans pack the bleachers at Spartan Stadium to cheer on their team. Starting with the game against Toledo Central Catholic, however, one seat will remain perpetually empty as a reminder of the military servicemen and women who have not returned home.
The American Legion Post 96 and Lima schools have teamed up to bring a Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Chair of Honor to the stadium. The POW/MIA Chair of Honor will be unveiled at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 28, before Lima Senior’s last regular season home football game. Military veterans will be admitted to the game free of charge, though they are asked to bring a form of military identification.
“It’s just the right thing to do,” said John Zell, athletic director of Lima schools. “We have a lot of people come here from Lima Senior, LCC and all over the state of Ohio, so to have that recognition in a public place is very important.”
The Chair of Honor will be all-black with the words “You Are Not Forgotten” inscribed underneath the POW/MIA insignia. It is designed like a typical stadium chair, but will have its own platform near the press box at the stadium. It will be flanked by the American flag, a POW/MIA flag and a memorial plaque.
“We have decks on either side of the press box where we have video cameras and other equipment, so we’re going to use the southern-most deck as a place to put the chair,” Zell said. “It will be roped off so nobody can sit there.”
It will remain empty to help individuals remember that even though these military members are not here, there is still a space for them.
“It will be like a memorial,” Zell said.
Before the Chair of Honor is unveiled, a brief ceremony will take place on the football field. Lima Mayor David Berger and American Legion Squad Commander Kyle Catlett will speak of the chair’s significance during the ceremony. Catlett said he has invited U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan and U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, but it is still unclear if the politicians will be able to attend.
The event will also feature renditions of the national anthem and “God Bless America,” as well as appearances by Rolling Thunder Inc. of West Chester — a nonprofit organization dedicated to honoring the nation’s MIA/POWs — and the American Legion Riders of Van Wert.
“I think it’s important we remind our country that we can’t forget these men and women,” said Catlett, who is helping organize the event. “We need to keep their memory alive.”
Catlett said the Chair of Honor will be the first one installed in Lima. He said he is open to coordinating with other local school districts or organizations wishing to partake in the program.
According to the POW/MIA Chair of Honor website, the program began in Boston in 2012 and has since spread to businesses, athletic stadiums, veterans organizations and event centers throughout the country. It was developed by Hussey Seating of Massachusetts and Rolling Thunder Inc. to honor the 91,000 service members who remain unaccounted for since World War I.
Reach John Bush at 567-242-0456 or on Twitter @bush_lima