Black Gate is a site devoted to fantasy and science fiction, and an inordinate amount of fantasy and science fiction is devoted to soldiers, warriors, barbarians, slaughter and destruction. Which I’m all for in my fiction.
Today, though, here in the United States, we observe Memorial Day and remember real soldiers and fallen warriors. So, if you don’t mind, for the blog today I am posting the transcript of the speech I delivered this morning at the Memorial Day service in Elgin, Minnesota. It is short (I kept it to one page). And if you came here looking for your daily dose of fantasy, don’t worry — the speech contains at least one reference to ghosts and alternate realities (How could it not? It is a speech by Oz)…
I brought a plastic army man with me today because I want to talk about the grim knowledge we gain as we grow up, the understanding that comes along with putting aside childish things. When I was a boy — my son’s age, and he loves to play with army men — we’d set them up and knock them over. Make our gun and explosion noises, like we’d learned from the movies. It was all right; they’re just pieces of plastic.
But when I became a man, I realized this little plastic soldier represented someone, a real individual, a man or woman with hopes and dreams and plans. Someone with family back home, people who love him or her, dearly missing and fearing for his or her safety. That soldier is a son, a daughter, a daddy, a mommy. And that soldier desperately wants to make it back, to see those loved ones again. Makes it hard to look at plastic army men quite the same way.
I’m reminded of our service here a few years back — a minor emergency during the proceedings, a woman in the crowd needed medical attention. And I happen to know the volunteer ambulance driver who was part of the team who responded; I work with him. Know he served in the military for 20 years: 3 years active Army and 17 in the National Guard. And I thought of how our volunteer fire departments and ambulance teams, our law enforcement – all of these services have experienced veterans among their ranks, and we benefit from the experience they bring back to those roles. Also to our schools and farms and businesses and all walks of life. A veteran doesn’t quit serving when active duty ends. Even if they’re a grandparent taking their grandchildren out fishing, they naturally impart the sense of duty, of honor, of respect and integrity that they learned and lived in service to their country.
But then, finally, we come to those who did not make it back. Those who are MIA or who died in service. Consider the voids, the empty spaces they left: the soldier who would’ve been the little league baseball coach, or the owner of a new shop in town, or the proud parent of children unborn. Somebody’s future best friend. Somebody’s wife or husband, never met. An echo. A ghost. A face, a presence, a person whom you might have said hi to each morning when you stopped for coffee. Here they stand with us today, in an alternate world where events unfolded with different outcomes and they came home.
That potential future is the sacrifice they made, and we should never forget it. Never forget them. And when we pass by these grave stones, we should be reminded. When we express our gratitude and respect to those who served and made it back, we should remember. And when we see our kids or grandkids playing army men. Always, we should remember. Memorial Day isn’t just a day: It’s a reminder of what — and who –we should remember every day. What they gave up, that we have. And how much more precious it is, never to be taken for granted, because they laid it all down, so we can carry on. Let’s carry them with us, in our hearts. As long as we remember, they are with us still. We are the purpose of their sacrifice. Their legacy is us.