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INDIANAPOLIS — Veterans Day may only be one day on the calendar, but the Colts have plans to honor those who served all month long through the NFL’s Salute to Service campaign. 

If you head to the game at Lucas Oil Stadium this Sunday you’ll notice a few new markings on the field acknowledging the sacrifice of our service men and women.

There is another permanent tribute that isn’t necessarily new, but whose impact remains long lasting…

There’s not typically many empty seats left in the stadium, but there is one seat that’s vacant even during the biggest games: the Prisoner of War and Missing In Action Chair of Honor.

Perched high above the field of play, near section 422, one of the best seats in the house sits empty… it’s waiting for those who never made it home.

“Are they still lying on the battlefield… are they in the hands of the enemies… nobody knows, they’re unaccounted for,” Indian Rolling Thunder Chapter #1 President Michael Clark said. “The purpose of the chair is to remind the public that we still have 81,500 service members unaccounted for.”

Were they all here and accounted for, those missing Americans couldn’t fit inside Lucas Oil Stadium if they tried – it seats 70,000. 

So one chair – represents them all.

“When they see that chair, I want them to think about those POWs and MIAs and also the family members of those POWs and MIAs for the hardship and sacrifices that they’re going through not knowing where their loved one is,” Clark said. “Rolling Thunder’s mission is to bring awareness to the public about the 81,500 service members that are still missing – that went off to battle and haven’t returned home. There’s 1,700 missing from Indiana alone.”

Clark, a veteran himself, was drafted during the Vietnam War. He served his country for 26 years and continues to serve veterans and their families through Rolling Thunder. 

He made it home, but many of his brothers and sisters did not… some of them may have even sat in the stadium as fans – if given the chance. 

“If it wasn’t for these men and women that went off to battle and fighting for our freedom… we couldn’t enjoy the games that we’re enjoying today,” Clark said. “The empty chair shows the public that their loved ones will never be forgotten and it’s really touching to them when they see it because they realize that somebody is out there, somebody cares about their loved one and cares about their sacrifice and hardships for not knowing where their loved one is today.”

The Chair of Honor symbolizes their sacrifice. It gives the missing and unaccounted for a permanent place, it was designed by Vice President of Special Projects and Historical Affairs for the Indianapolis Colts Larry Hall.

“I know the Colts, the NFL and certainly me personally have always had a great deal of respect for military service people, their families, the hardships, the sacrifices they make. and so when I first heard about the POW-MIA chair built first in another state, I did some research, saw that there hadn’t been one made in our state and thought what a perfect place to have one in Lucas Oil Stadium,” Hall said. “Anything we can do to honor those veterans is what we attempt and so we want to honor those people who made the ultimate sacrifice and their families and certainly those that are still listed as missing in action and prisoners of war.”

While it was the first of its kind in Indiana, built in 2014, it’s no longer the only one of its kind. 13 have been built since and dedicated by Rolling Thunder throughout Indiana. There’s one in the Indianapolis International Airport, one in the state capitol and one also in Gainbridge Fieldhouse among other significant sites.

Each seat is built to uniquely match and embody the venue it’s set in.

“The colorization of their flag is black with white print so wanted to make sure that it’s a very nice club seat, black leather, embroidered imaging on it and everything we can do the utmost to honor those people,” Hall said. “I think there’s a great deal of grace involved in both this chair, the pedestal that it’s on and really its meaning.”

Honor through memory and grace through recognition. Acknowledging the freedoms we all enjoy today – came at a cost worth remembering.

“I think the days and the weeks and the months and the years get behind us and I think we’re all guilty of this… sometimes we forget that that freedom isn’t free,” Hall said. “It’s something I’m hopeful that no American takes for granted. The sacrifices that have been made, the hardships endured so we can enjoy the life we have.”

There are more Chairs of Honor scheduled to be built and dedicated. Indiana Rolling Thunder plans to unveil their latest chair at the Disabled Veterans of America Department of Indiana in Greenwood later this month.