At the two El Burrito restaurants in Liberty and Cleveland, 13 seats are intentionally being left empty. To honor the 13 U.S. service personnel who died this week at a bombing at Kabul Airport, El Burrito has set up “missing man” tables in prominent locations inside both restaurants.
Wendy Medina, general manager for her family’s restaurants, said the tables will remain in place until the last U.S. service person in Afghanistan is safely out of harm’s way and back home in the United States.
Like most Americans, news of their deaths has left a sadness in the Medina home, said Wendy. While talking with her husband, Joe, the idea of setting up missing man tables came up and both thought it was a way to unite people in grief and pay tribute to the military heroes who died while trying to save others.
“Honestly, it’s been so heartbreaking to watch it all on the news. We all, as Americans, have to be feeling an overwhelming sense of grief over this situation. Their lives mattered more than a whole lot of other things that people are focused on right now,” she said.
When the tables were first set up, the names of the deceased service personnel had not been released by the military. Wendy has paid close attention to news reports in which they were identified, jotting down names on a grim list. She now plans to add place cards for each person killed.
“I just have one name left to get,” she said.
Almost as soon as she and her staff set up the tables, customers began noticing and paying tribute.
“One older gentleman stopped by one of the tables, took off his hat and bowed his head. All I could do was stand there and cry,” she said.
As the unrest in Afghanistan continues, Medina is praying more seats will not have to be added.
“God forbid we lose another person. We have lost so many already,” she said.