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Seat in stadium honors POW, MIA soldiers

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Jessa Reid Bolling, Assistant News Editor

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On home game days, thousands of Crimson Tide fans clamor to get their hands on a ticket for one of the 101,821 seats available in Bryant-Denny Stadium, but one seat will constantly remain empty in honor of the more than 92,000 American soldiers who haven’t returned home from war since World War I.

A seat has been installed to honor prisoners of war (POWs) and missing in action (MIA) soldiers as part of the National Chair of Honor program. These seats have been installed in public places across the country, ranging from sports stadiums to small-town city halls.

“I love that the University has constructed such a monumental gesture that symbolizes the sacrifices entailed by those service members that are not able to be here with us,” said Brandon Pendergrass, a member of the Campus Veterans Association and Marine Corps Purple Heart recipient.

The seat was initially installed late in November of last year but was recently moved to a more visible position in the stadium so it can be seen from the field. It is now on the west side of Bryant-Denny Stadium in section E, next to the Ivory Club Box.

A plaque is positioned above the seat, explaining its purpose. It reads, “You are not forgotten. Since World War I, more than 92,000 American soldiers are unaccounted for. This unoccupied seat is dedicated in memory to those brave men and women and to the sacrifices each made in serving this country. God bless you. God bless America.”

Kody Pemberton, president of the Campus Veterans Association, said this was an idea the association had for years and that he is proud to see the University get behind the project.

“It means a lot to me personally because it’s a good representation from the University to show that they actually do care about veterans,” Pemberton said. “It’s a great gesture on our part and for the University to show the families of those who never made it back that we have not forgotten. There will always be a seat in Bryant-Denny Stadium empty and waiting until they are all home.”

Pemberton said the success of the project rests not just with the association but with the UA Athletic Director Greg Byrne for giving permission for the seat to be installed.

Byrne said in an email he was proud to have been involved helping such a project come to fruition.

“Adding the POW/MIA unoccupied seat in Bryant-Denny Stadium was a special moment for us and certainly want to thank Associate Vice President of Facilities & Grounds Operations Duane Lamb for his leadership on this initiative,” Byrne said. “The seat is dedicated in memory of the over 92,000 soldiers who never returned home from war and stands as a permanent reminder to all of us of the sacrifices made to protect our freedom. We are proud to be able to honor those brave men and women for their service.”

Colonel Duane Lamb, advisor for the association and associate vice president for Facilities and Grounds Operations at the University, said even in a place where people gather to be entertained, it is important they be reminded of those who paid the ultimate price for that freedom with their lives.

“It’s a symbol that lets everyone know we still have Americans that served honorably out there for all of us and for our freedoms that are still missing and until they are all returned or accounted for, we should show them that respect,” Lamb said. “I think it speaks volumes from The University of Alabama to have that seat prominently displayed in our stadium, especially with such a big-time college football program that we have.”

This POW/MIA seat is only the latest example of the long UA history of honoring veterans and military members. In the early 1920s, the trees lining University Boulevard were planted in honor of soldiers killed in World War I who were from Tuscaloosa County. A small plaque just west of Denny Chimes bears the names of the 45 soldiers, with one tree planted for each name. In 2012, the University was named a Purple Heart University in recognition of its support for military members, veterans and their families. Last year, the University also dedicated a parking spot in the Ferguson Center parking lot to Purple Heart recipients.

Lamb, a 30-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a Purple Heart recipient, said he was impressed that the Campus Veterans Association was able to make the project happen.He also said the meaning behind the gesture is immeasurable to the families of military service members and veterans who no longer have their loved ones with them.

“We’ve had some POWs that were in my military order of the Purple Heart chapter here in Tuscaloosa, so this is a pretty big deal,” Lamb said. “I spent 30 years in the United States Air Force as a colonel and a combat commander in Iraq, so I know what it means not just to me but also to families that have loved ones that have served that were either killed in action or missing in action.”

 

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Seat in stadium honors POW, MIA soldiers