Memorial Day Weekend is almost upon us. Traditionally that's a huge day on the SF convention calendar, and one that usually finds me off at one con or another. Indeed, Parris flew off this morning, and is now in Kansas City with old friends and new, preparing to enjoy Conquest, one of our very favorite small regional conventions. (I'm not with her. I'm at home working. But don't feel too sorry for me, I get my own con next week, when I travel to Charlotte for ConCarolinas).
Much as I enjoy the holiday aspects of Memorial Day, however, I try not to lose sight of the day's true meaning — to remember those who have fought and fallen in defense of our country.
I was never a warrior. I served in VISTA, not the Army or Air Force, and I opposed the Vietnam War. But I have written a good deal about war and warriors, and read even more about those subjects. Together with Gardner Dozois (a Vietnam era vet), I edited WARRIORS, a mammoth anthology of stories about war and the men and women who fight them. The glories and horrors of war lie at the very center of A SONG OF ICE & FIRE.
Way back in grade school, like many other lads of my generation, I was taught to recite one of the classic poems of those subjects: Alfred, Lord Tennyson's CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE. I don't think they teach that in grade school any more, so maybe some of you younger folks have never heard it.
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Stirring stuff, even now. As a kid, I found it enormously moving. I can still remember chanting those lines in class, surrounded by the other kids, all of our voices joining as one. (Do they still recite poems aloud in grade school? Somehow I doubt it).
It was not until many years later, however — until college — that I first encountered the reply to Tennyson's ode, penned a generation later by Rudyard Kipling. It moved me to tears the first time I read it, and it still does, all these years later. Some things never change (sadly, sadly)… and with the VA scandal and America's treatment of its own veterans very much in the news, Kipling's poem remains as topical today as it was then.
So here's the second act, the part that comes after the glory. Kipling's THE LAST OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE.
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So on this Memorial Day, here's to the poets… and to all the warriors. Let us honor the dead, by all means… but let us remember the living too.