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Chair dedicated to POWs, missing in action unveiled at US Capitol

From left: House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, unveil the commemorative chair in honor of U.S. prisoners of war and the service members missing in action on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017 in the U.S. Capitol.

MANUEL BALCE CENETA/AP

By STEVE LEBLANC | Associated Press | Published: November 8, 2017

WASHINGTON — A commemorative chair designed to honor American prisoners of war and the tens of thousands of service members missing in action was unveiled during a ceremony at Emancipation Hall on the U.S. Capitol grounds Wednesday.

The 1850s, hand-carved oak chair was dedicated to the approximately 91,662 POWs and those missing in action.

The memorial was authorized by a bill co-sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, and fellow Massachusetts Democratic lawmaker Rep. Stephen Lynch in the House. The ceremony comes ahead of Veteran's Day.

Warren said the idea of the memorial was first suggested to her shortly after she took office in 2013 during a meeting with Joe D'Entremont, a Boston locksmith and former president of the Massachusetts Chapter 1 of the veterans group Rolling Thunder.

"We sat down and started talking about POWs and MIAs and how Rolling Thunder had been leading an effort across Massachusetts and around the country to have an empty chair placed as a reminder of those who didn't make it home," Warren told The Associated Press before the ceremony. "Joe said he had this idea. He wanted to see a chair placed in the United States Capitol."

Warren said she agreed to work on the issue. Warren's three brothers served in the military, including one who flew 288 combat missions in Vietnam. All three returned safely.

"We talked about how anxious my family had been and how blessed we felt when my brothers made it home," she said.

The bill authorizing the memorial was signed last year by former President Barack Obama. Rolling Thunder raised the money for the pedestal and plaque.

Warren said the commemorative chair is part of larger effort to assist returning veterans.

She pointed to other initiatives she's pushed like making it easier for veterans to apply skills they learned in the military to getting jobs when they return home — like driving 18-wheel trucks — to calling for an expedited criminal investigation into the death at the Bedford, Massachusetts VA Medical Center of William R. Nutter Jr., a Vietnam War veteran who served 21 years in the U.S. Army Reserves.

"I see the chair as part of the sense of what it truly means to honor our veterans. It's to remember and it's to ensure that they are treated fairly after their service," Warren said.

Army veteran and Rolling Thunder member Tom Rhodes, 75, center, along with fellow veterans salute as the Star Spangled Banner is played during a ceremony to unveil a commemorative chair in honor of U.S. prisoners of war and the service members missing in action, in the U.S. Capitol's Emancipation Hall in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017.
MANUEL BALCE CENETA/AP

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