Middletown High held a ceremony to unveil a chair to acknowledge 80,000 American service members who are prisoners of war or missing in action.

More than 80,000 service members are on the record books as prisoners of war or missing in action. Delawareans account for 122, and Middletown High School found a way to honor them.

Before Veteran’s Day, the school hosted a Nov. 8 ceremony to unveil a Chair of Honor.

Chief M.Sgt. Michael Conway led the ceremony and said the chair is to be a reminder that the military has an obligation to the families of service members to see the safe return of their loved ones.

“In our country, the families of American service members who are prisoners of war or missing in action have often suffered alone,” he said.

Middletown alumnus Brig. Gen. Michael R. Berry, Delaware National Guard adjutant general, revealed the chair and delivered the keynote address. He discussed the “unwritten contract” American service members have with citizens and how dangerous their work is.

“Our contract says citizens should understand the inherent dangers that go with combat arms and the profession of arms in serving our nation.” Berry said. “It keeps the citizens and population of our country connected to those men and women in uniform.”

Rosalie Robinson, director of Delaware chapter of A Hero’s Welcome, reminded the attendees of the importance of educating one another on the sacrifice each person who has disappeared in war has made.

“Every one of those has a name, has a family,” she said. “It’s not just a number. It’s a person.”

About 1,000 from the Vietnam War, 7,000 in the Korean War and 70,000 World War II have not come home, Conway said.

The chair will always be symbolically empty, in front of a classroom. It will be at all future veterans and memorial ceremonies.

The ceremony honored the memory of Petty Officer First Class Brandon K. Austin, a 2000 graduate, who passed away from cancer in 2018. The Junior ROTC presented his brother with a flag and dedicated a marker for the Memorial Garden in front of the school building.

POW/MIA chairs are found at arenas, town halls and capitals across the United States. In Delaware, among the places they have been dedicated are Delaware Technical and Community College, the HealthSouth (now Encompass Health) Rehabilitation Center and Delaware Military Academy.