The Empty Chair: A Veterans Day Salute

This table is set for one, symbolizing some are missing from our ranks. The white tablecloth is for the purity of their intentions for freedom for all. A single red rose is for the blood they shed. A slice of lemon on the plate for the bitterness of their fate. Salt on the plate for all the tears shed for them. An inverted glass cause they can not toast with us. And the empty chair because they are not here.

You go to work and see the same people in the office day in and day out. Have you ever just stopped and really looked at them or taken the time to care about what’s happening in their actual lives? Today was going to be one of those days.

I was in the office, going over some reports that Sheba had left for me to review. The pandemic continued, and more of our staff were working from home. We were still a thriving business because who doesn’t want the comfort of a nice cup of coffee or tea?

I didn’t know what some of these things meant, like diagnostic analytics and expenditure, so Sheba made me a cheat sheet. Sitting here, longing for something else to do, my heart pinged. Finally, I whispered to myself. That ping meant that someone in the office must need a victory. 

I left my office and began the scan of the remaining team members that had to be in the building. I looked toward the buying department, then to the marketing team, but nothing registered. I walked around the office before I found the source. It was coming from Sheba’s office down the hall from mine, and she was crying. And not just any type of crying, but gut-wrenching sobs. I didn’t know what to do. I looked around to see if her assistant was around before entering her office to see if I could help.

On the floor near her sofa was my executive assistant, bawling. I knelt beside her and put my hand on her shoulder. She jumped a bit, but once she saw it was me, leaned into me, and just sobbed in my arms.

My wings naturally opened and wrapped around her. After a few moments like this, I asked, “Sheba, what happened? Are you alright?”

She sniffed back her tears. “I’m so sorry, Lady Nike, I didn’t…I mean, I’m not usually…” She tried to compose herself.

“Hey, now. It’s alright. What happened?”

She was holding a piece of paper in her hand and offered it to me.

Dear Mrs. Cunningham, 

We would first like to offer our condolences on the passing of your husband. His service will not be forgotten. Please accept our invitation to attend the military’s medal ceremony. We will award Master Gunnery Sergeant Thomas James Cunningham the Congressional Medal Of Honor and the Purple Heart (medal of merit), to honor his sacrifice and service.

Lieutenant General Michael D. Hobbs 

I glanced at Sheba as she wiped the tears from her face. I had no idea that she was married or that her husband served in the American Armed Forces. I thought, How am I supposed to bring her a victory if her husband is already dead? 

Sheba blew her nose on the tissue I offered her. “Thank you, Lady Nike. Please forgive me.” 

“Stop. I understand this to be a high honor.”

She looked at me, and the tears began again. “But it won’t bring my husband back.”

Her cries broke my heart as I held her in my wings. What could I say? What could I do? So many times, I had witnessed the widow’s wails and watched them mourn their husbands. I never knew what to say to them. Often, I heard the officer delivering the bad news say, “We thank you for their service.” But what about the widows, children, and families that were left to grieve the loss of family members? 

I hadn’t planned on going into the office the next day, but since I had not resolved the victory for Sheba yet, I went anyway. Heading to my office by way of Sheba’s, I could hear her on the phone, talking in exasperated tones. 

“Tommy, what do you mean you can’t get away? I need you…this is important. Yes, I know that your duties with the senator come first, but this is for your father…fine. Yes, I tried your sister. You know she is swamped at the hospital because of this virus. Yes, I love you, too. Yes, I’ll be alright. I didn’t want to go alone. I know you are sorry. It’s fine. Be safe, Thomas. Hugs and kisses. Yes, I’ll be fine. Love you. Please, just ask is all I want. Thank you. Till we see each other again.” She turned and saw me in the doorway of her office as she hung up her phone. I tried to duck away before she saw me, but it didn’t work. “Lady Nike, did you need something?”

“Ah, no, I was only passing by and…”

“Oh, you heard me?” she said as she tossed her phone on her desk. “That was my son, Thomas Jr.”

Nodding at that, I turned to leave.

“Lady Nike, wait. Can I ask you something?”

I turned back around. “Sure, anything.

“I know you don’t know me outside of the office, but I have run out of people I can ask to accompany me to the ceremony. Would you…I mean, I know you are busy, but would you be able to come with me? It would help me a great deal.”

Crossing to Sheba, I took her hand in mine and gave it a slight squeeze. “Yes, I would be honored.” She smiled, and her shoulders relaxed. “When would we need to be there?”

“The ceremony is at the end of the week. I think we could make this a work trip. We could check on the primary offices in Pennsylvania and D.C. if you would like.”

Sheba is always thinking of the best ways to optimize my workload. “Sheba, this isn’t a work trip. This is a personal trip for you.”

“I’m aware of that, but why can’t it be both?”

“I suppose it would be alright…”

“Perfect, I will make the arrangements. We leave tomorrow.”

“Sounds good.” I left her office and headed to mine. I finished up the reports and made a few calls. I let Cara know I’d be away for a while, so she would need to watch over the shop. Knowing things were all good in the office, I prepared for my trip to America. I sent a message to Sheba that I would meet her at the airport but that I might fly there on my own. 

I never knew how to pack for trips like this. Francisco helped me pick out what I might need, and I was all set. I checked in with my family and let them know where I was headed. Kratos drove me to the airport.

Now, most may think an airplane ride is a piece of cake. I haven’t flown much because with wings and being a goddess, what was the point? But thinking of how Sheba might feel traveling alone, I decided that I should go with her. There was a special room for VIP guests to wait for their flights, and that was where I went to meet Sheba. 

Our flight was called, and we boarded. The first-class seats were bigger, so I could let my wings out without anyone noticing. Sheba had made the best arrangements for us. We talked about her family, being a military wife, and having two children. The challenges the family faced with moving from place to place, even to a few different countries, before landing in Greece.

They had lived out of twenty boxes for five years, one suitcase each and a backpack. She said her husband Tom often insisted his family be on the same continent as himself. She spoke of how they met at a ball held in her hometown in Pennsylvania when she was a teenager. They were high school sweethearts and married just after she finished college. I noticed her spinning her wedding band as she spoke. As a Master Gunnery Sergeant’s wife, she often planned parties and toy drives for the military families on base. She’d be sure every home had a Christmas tree and lights and that every child got at least one gift from their parent in the service, even if they couldn’t actually send one. 

Sitting there, listening to her tell me her story, warmed my heart. I loved every minute of our chat. Our meals and drinks came and went. Then she fell asleep. For the last four hours of our flight, everyone slept. I wanted to help Sheba somehow. I left the plane to do just that. Two hours later, I popped back into my seat, no one having noticed my absence. Smiling to myself and my plan, I sat there watching Sheba as she slept.

Once we arrived, everything went smoothly. We went to the primary offices of Dark Sparks in Pennsylvania. Everyone was delighted at our visit. Then we went to our hotel. 

The day arrived for the ceremony at the White House. They had a few others there that were to receive other medals. They moved me to another room, and I sat in the front row as support for Sheba. They entered, and Sheba sat next to me. As they read the citations for each of the soldiers, a sense of pride welled up in me. These young men survived their ordeals and saved many in their units. They had my full victory support, but I couldn’t have fathomed what Sheba was going through as she sat there watching each one receive their medals.

As they read the citation for Master Gunnery Sergeant Cunningham, a young man scurried in and sat next to Sheba. Grabbing her hand, he clung to it. A tear strolled down her face. I knew this must be her son. They placed the medals in a case because the Sergeant wasn’t there. As the president approached Sheba, she stood and accepted the glass-cased awards. He leaned in and whispered, “Thank you for coming.” He shook her son’s hand. After the pomp and circumstance of the medal ceremony, they escorted us to dinner. 

The ballroom was decorated lavishly, and the table settings were beautiful. They escorted us to our seats. I noticed wandering eyes glancing our way. I had seen some of these people before, but everyone saw that I was with the Gunnery Sergeant’s wife. At the front of the room, near the stage, there sat a lone chair next to a fully dressed table. There was a card explaining this at our place setting.

This table is set for one, symbolizing some are missing from our ranks. The white tablecloth is for the purity of their intentions for freedom for all. A single red rose is for the blood they shed. A slice of lemon on the plate for the bitterness of their fate. Salt on the plate for all the tears shed for them. An inverted glass cause they can not toast with us. And the empty chair because they are not here.

I saw Sheba’s shoulders move. She was crying as the party’s host read the card. Her son wrapped his arms around her. I wanted to wrap my wings around her, but she wasn’t the only person in the room crying. Many people were. My heart ached for them.

After dinner, people mingled and chatted with each other. I felt that ping in my heart again and knew my surprise was near.

“Excuse me, ma’am. Are you the Gunny’s wife?”

Sheba turned to see a young soldier standing there with roses. “Yes.”

“You don’t know me, but I served under your husband, and I just want to say thank you for the cookies. He always shared them with us,” he said as he handed her the roses.

Another young man stepped up. “Master Gunnery Sergeant Wife in Company!” he shouted. 

All the Marines in the room stood and let out a great big, “HUWAH!” Then the flood of young soldiers approached her, telling her story after story about how much her Tom had helped them. They thanked her for the cards and the cookies and for taking care of their families when they were away. I stepped out of the way and watched a big tearful smile appear on her face. I looked up at the stage, and I could see the Lieutenant General look over at me. I winked at him, and he smiled. “Thank you,” I mouthed. 

He nodded and said, “My pleasure.”

Sometimes you just don’t know how much you impact others with your kindness. 


On this Veterans Day, remember not only those who served but their families and their sacrifices. 

On behalf of the Gods, Goddess, Muses, Titans, and Primordials of the Pantheon, we want to thank all who have served and will serve. You bring honor to us all.

Photo credit: Linda Dahlstrom 

Nike (Nikki Crump-Hansted)
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