On June 8, the Pirates dedicated a Chair of Honor at PNC Park that will be a permanent tribute to the sacrifices made by the more than 92,000 American service men and women who have been Prisoners of War or Missing in Action since World War I. The ceremony took place in partnership with Rolling Thunder, a non-profit organization and veterans group that serves to raise awareness of American POW and MIA service members.
The Pirates' Chair of Honor is located at the top of Section 129 on the main concourse. The bronze plaque mounted next to it reads: "You are not forgotten. Since World War I, more than 92,000 American soldiers are unaccounted for. This unoccupied seat is dedicated to the memory of these brave men and women, and to the sacrifices each made in serving this country. God Bless You. God Bless America."
To date, the efforts of Rolling Thunder have resulted in more than 400 Chairs of Honor being placed at sports venues and government buildings throughout the United States. The Philadelphia Phillies, Boston Red Sox, Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals are the other Major League baseball teams that have a Chair of Honor at their ballpark.
"We want to remind the public about the sacrifices of the military and military families, and the teams partnering with us have said there will always be a seat for them," said Elaine Martin, who heads the Chair of Honor program for Rolling Thunder. "That's what the chair stands for."
Representatives of Rolling Thunder, State Senators Wayne Fontana and Randy Vulakovich, and military veterans -- including former Pirates shortstop Dick Groat -- joined Pirates President Frank Coonelly for the pre-game dedication ceremony. Because June 8 fell on a Thursday, it was also a Military Appreciation Day, which meant the Pirates wore special camo jerseys and military appreciation caps for the game against the Miami Marlins.
That night, proceeds from the Pirates Charities 50/50 Raffle -- supported by Rivers Casino -- benefited the Veteran's Trust. The trust provides grants to veterans' service organizations, directors of veterans' affairs, and statewide charitable organizations that assist veterans in need of shelter and other necessities.
Patrick Hughes is a national photographer for Rolling Thunder who lives just outside Philadelphia. He's been involved in more than 50 Chair of Honor dedication ceremonies, including the one at PNC Park. Anyone who speaks with him is instantly aware of his passion for the program.
"If we were to put our hand up to serve our country and, God forbid, something happens to us, we would all want to know that people would come looking for us and bring us home," Hughes said. "Hopefully, we'd be alive. If not, we'd want them to at least bring us home to our family.
"If you want to write something else down that's very important to me, it's this: 'America's veterans are the purchasers of peace, and every veteran has earned the right -- the absolute right -- to come home.' That's what this is about.
"There are so few soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen that have not been returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, but even one is too many. As more and more chairs are placed, it becomes a little easier to encourage people to promote the fact that we need these chairs placed so that there's some kind of closure or comfort for the families."