It’s a seat, but not any seat. Unlike other seats, which are meant to be sat in, no one will sit in it. Not on Saturday when the Ohio State football team opens its 2016 season against Bowling Green at Ohio Stadium. Not any on Saturday, or the week’s other six days. No, no one will ever sit in this seat, because this seat, it’s more than a seat.
The seat is in the first row of section 3AA at the stadium. It’s in that section, surrounded by the some 100,000 frenzied other fans wearing Scarlet and Gray and the usual sliver of opposing fans wearing whatever colors of whatever team they support, that members of the ROTC program at Ohio State, donning their branch’s respective uniforms, sit during football games.
This seat, unveiled for the first time Thursday, is black. It’s not for Buckeye fans. It’s not for opposing fans. It’s not for any of us. This stirring black seat is a memorial for the 92,000 American soldiers that are unaccounted since World War I, the war that was supposed to end all wars.
If looking at the seat from the front, in the upper right-hand corner, it’s marked seat No. 1, for the 92,000. In the middle of the forever-empty seat’s back is the harrowing POW/MIA logo — the silhouette of a man’s head in the foreground, with a guard tower and a barbed-wire fence in the background.
The rest of the seats at Ohio Stadium are mostly bleachers. The bottom rung, closest to the green astroturf, are steel gray. The ones beyond that are scarlet. That pattern — rows of gray, rows of scarlet, rows of gray — spiral upward until the stadium stops and the sky begins. Smattered throughout the vast stadium, disrupting that perfect scarlet-and-gray spiral, are scarlet chairs, for the season ticket holders.
But on game day, what those seats look like, no one knows; it doesn’t matter. The seats in the stadium, whether it be for the meaningless spring scrimmage, the banal early-season matches versus weaker teams or the wintery late-season contests, are, it seems, always occupied.
Except this black seat will never be occupied. Though it has a backing like the scarlet chairs season-ticket holders sit in, this is quite literally one-of-a-kind. It shall always serve as a reminder that whatever a game’s outcome is, at the end of the day, it’s just sports, which are important, but not that important.
On the gray railing in front of the empty black seat is a black rectangular plaque, with a thin-gray trim. In large gray font, it reads: “YOU ARE NOT FORGOTTEN.” Below, it continues: “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.”
Sometime around noon on Saturday, the kicker for either Bowling Green or Ohio State will send a football flying through the blue September sky. Well over a 100,000 fans, wearing a collection of scarlet and gray, orange and brown, or their ROTC uniform, will leave their seats, making noise, as the game gets under way.
But in the first row of section 3AA, there will be a tiny space where no noise is coming from, near the black seat, in which no one is sitting.