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Pa. Guardsman creates table for one, memorial for some and honor to all

Senior Airman Alan Phe, of the 111th Force Support Squadron Service Flight, removes the lemon slice from the bread plate of the prisoners of war/missing in action (POW/MIA) table he created recently at Horsham Air Guard Station, Pennsylvania, Feb. 22, 2016. Commonly located in the dining areas of military installations, at ceremonies and at events, prior to Phe's assembly of the display, Horsham AGS did not have one on the installation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Andria Allmond)

Senior Airman Alan Phe, of the 111th Force Support Squadron Service Flight, removes the lemon slice from the bread plate of the prisoners of war/missing in action (POW/MIA) table he created recently at Horsham Air Guard Station, Pennsylvania, Feb. 22, 2016. Commonly located in the dining areas of military installations, at ceremonies and at events, prior to Phe's assembly of the display, Horsham AGS did not have one on the installation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Andria Allmond)

HORSHAM AIR GUARD STATION, Pa. -- He stood uniquely serious amid the buoyant clatter and chatter saturating the jam-packed dining facility here. In a low, solemn voice, he spoke of his days in the Marine Corps and of a lost comrade. His gaze was vague, wafting to the newly-placed small, innocuous table.

He had draped a white tablecloth over the table.

He had ensured its chair remained empty.

He had placed a slice of lemon on the bread plate.

Senior Airman Alan Phe, of the 111th Force Support Squadron Service Flight, had constructed the tabletop and the place setting. And while he did not set it for himself, it represents him and others in uniform.

"We don't forget our own," said Phe about the prisoners of war/missing in action (POW/MIA) table he fashioned. "And in a way, having the POW/MIA table here, it's like we're having a meal with those that never made it back or those that are still out there."

Since the end of the Vietnam War, the POW/MIA table is the tradition of setting a separate table in honor of prisoners of war or those missing in combat. They are commonly located in the dining areas of military installations, at ceremonies and at events.

Prior to Phe's assembly of the display, Horsham Air Guard Station did not have one on the installation.

"Security Forces came in one time and they were looking for a set-up for one of their members," said Phe. "And I really felt embarrassed that [we], as the dining facility, didn't have one."

So, when Phe realized that an integral piece of military tradition was absent from his own unit's DFAC, he took the lead in amending the oversight.

But where to start?

For Phe, that would be during his time in the Marine Corps from 2000 until 2004.

"I spent four years in the active-duty Marine Corps; and I remember that there was always one of these tables in the chow hall," said the services Airman.

Using his past military experience as the foundation, Phe began to decipher the correct configuration. Next, his research proceeded in a near-universal manner.

"I looked online," said Phe.

While there are documents available to dictate protocol of POW/MIA ceremonies, there is no Department of Defense standard for the table itself. It is not currently governed by any DOD or service-specific guidance. Individuals may even find that the table epitomizes personal aspects of military service in addition to its original design as a tribute to POW/MIAs.

So, as the POW/MIA table came together in the DFAC here, the project became more than implementing a piece of military custom - it became personal.

"Airman Phe is certainly one of the elite," said Staff Sgt. Terry Harris, shift leader of the 111th Services Squadron. "He brings a lot to the flight. He's the kind of person that gets things done; and he brought a lot to the dining facility by incorporating the POW/MIA table."

A sense of esprit de corps for his fellow Guardsmen emerged as Phe and his flight came together to research, uncover, gather and construct the table.

"I'm about my people, my team," said Phe. "And I didn't put this all together alone; we did it as a team. These are my people and I'll be there for them."

Phe, who enlisted in the Pennsylvania Air National Guard three years ago, said that this table is partly for those now serving by his side. But the table also became a tribute to one Marine that fell by his side in combat years ago.

"I had fallen members when I was overseas [in the Marine Corps]," said Phe. "And this [table] brings me closer to them.

"My Gunny passed away while we were in combat together," said Phe, a Philadelphia native. "This table makes me feel like I'm saying, 'Look. We didn't forget about you. You'll always be in our hearts.'"

Phe said he returned to the military after a nearly 12-year hiatus because he missed wearing the uniform, and that being clad in official military attire gave him his identity.

The same can be said for the POW/MIA table.

Without the accoutrements and arrangement, it's just a table - but, donning the proper regalia, it develops a nobler character.

Harris said the display is a testament to Phe's principles - respect, integrity and dedication.

Similarly, Harris said he believes the POW/MIA table symbolizes the Horsham Air Guard Station Guardsmen's principles. Those values include reverence for members from all military branches and the fellow servicemembers who never came home.

Agreeing with Harris, Phe says that the table represents even more.

"This table presents pride," said Phe. "Never forget who came before you or where you came from. This table is all of us."