You can tell she’s from a military family by the way she replies with, “Yes, ma’am.” That’s Elsa Maria Garcia, patient services manager with Morrison Healthcare at the Hospitals of Providence in El Paso, Texas. On Memorial Day, she’s focused on remembering fallen veterans.
“We live in a military community,” Garcia says. “Fort Bliss [a U.S. Army post in New Mexico and Texas with headquarters in El Paso originally established in 1848] is in the middle of El Paso. Both the executive chef and I grew up in military families.”
Garcia’s father, an Army veteran, served in Vietnam, but rarely talked much about it when Garcia was growing up, aside from a few funny stories. Reticence in veterans has been studied and is sometimes attributed to not wanting attention and the difficulty of revisiting war through talking about it. So sometimes, actions—like setting a Fallen Soldiers Table—can speak more eloquently than words in showing appreciation for our vets.
“We have a lot of people with that military background and this is our way to honor our military people and show those who are currently active that we honor and respect those who lost their lives,” Garcia says. “Our previous manager was a veteran and she’s the one who started doing the Fallen Soldier Table.”
The idea for the Fallen Soldier Table originated with a poem by Jon M. Nelson, which outlines how to set the table.
“Everything on the table has symbolism,” Garcia says, adding that everything needed is easily found in most kitchens, and a local flower shop is happy to donate a single rose and yellow ribbon every year. You can also include special items, such as the Army hat that belonged to Garcia’s father, which she also placed on the table.
Here are the components you will need to make a Fallen Soldier Table:
- Single rose: “The rose stands for the family with faith and love for those who serve”
- Yellow ribbon: “For the loyalty waiting for those serving abroad”
- Inverted glass: “Represents that the fallen can no longer toast”
- Lemon wedge: “The bitter loss of the fallen soldier’s life”
- Salt: “For all the loved ones’ shedding tears”
- Red candle: “Stands tall for the blood that the soldier shed”
- Empty chair: “Symbolizes the missing comrade who isn’t here”
Garcia, who mostly works on the patient side at the hospital, worked with the retail dining side to set up the table right in the middle of the retail area on the days before Memorial Day weekend, so more people get a chance to see it.