In a stadium that is a sea of gold seats, the one black chair will forever stand out at Heinz Field. And that is just the way it should be.
It's not there for anyone to sit in, rather just the opposite. It will forever remain empty as a powerful reminder of members of the military who were prisoners of war (POW) and those listed as missing in action (MIA).
The POW/MIA 'Chair of Honor' was dedicated prior to the Steelers-Titans game at Heinz Field as a part of the team's Salute to Service game, and will permanently remain in the Ford Fan Zone, where those inside Heinz Field can view it, and pay their proper respects.
Steelers President Art Rooney II was joined at the dedication of the 'Chair of Honor' by former Steelers running back and Vietnam Veteran Rocky Bleier, as well as Senators Jay Costa, Wayne Fontana and Randy Vulakovich, and VP of Stadium Operations Jim Sacco. United States Marine Corps Lt. Alvin Murtha, a WWII Veteran and former POW, was presented the symbol to honor POWs and MIAs, along with Rolling Thunder's Patrick Hughes, also a former Marine, and part of the organization that developed the 'Chair of Honor' program. Murtha and Bleier both assisted in unveiling the chair.
"It's a part of the commitment we made as soldiers and the ethos of military that no man is left behind, no soldier is left behind," said Bleier. "No matter what, in the time of combat or duty, you go back and retrieve your fallen comrades. In the case of POWs and MIAs it's a constant reminder that it's a part of war. We don't forget them. We continually search to retrieve those soldiers who have given their time, life and commitment to this country. It something that needs to be constantly remembered. So often life goes on and we forget. We don't want to forget those who are left behind.
"I have always felt that as an organization the Steelers always took the lead on issues that may not have been important to some, but have been important to the Rooney family, the organization and the fans. This is the kind of team we are, this is who we are. It is important that the organization takes the lead of establishing the role of an empty chair for the POWs and MIAs. It's a constant reminder that people are serving all the time and anything can happen at any time and we should not forget."
The premise for the 'Chair of Honor' is to always have one empty seat as a reminder for the sacrifices made by those who served in the Armed Forces and are still missing.
"I think one of the most important impacts it will have at Heinz Field is when a young boy or girl walks by and they see it and they look at their mom or dad and say, 'What does that mean over there, why do they have that there,'" said Senator Vulakovich, who is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee. "The parent can explain to them that is a chair that represents the fact that someone who could have been here watching this game like you and I today, is now empty because that person made a sacrifice so we can he here today to watch this game."
The black chair has the POW/MIA symbol on it, and is accompanied by a plaque reminding all that they will not be forgotten. And for Senator Vulakovich, the fact that the Steelers and Heinz Field will never forget those brave men and women means a lot.
"I have always said, and I firmly believe this, that a country like America, the United States, if we don't pay the proper tribute to the men and women who served this country, knowing full well that they made many sacrifices, and they might make the ultimate sacrifice, if we don't pay them the proper respect and tribute, we don't deserve to call ourselves a nation," said Senator Vulakovich. "I am elated that the Steelers dedicated the chair to remember them. Young people, they look up to athletes. When they see the sports team showing respect to the men and women who served in our country, it has a tremendous impact."