“Let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation’s gratitude — the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.” These words were written by Union General John Logan, who in 1868 designated a day in which the graves of Civil War soldiers would be decorated on a day that is known today as Memorial Day.
Memorial Day is a time of solemn remembrance of loved ones who have perished for the sake of our nation, and gratitude for the freedoms we enjoy because of their sacrifices and acts of heroism. At the same time, it also signifies the beginning of the summer season, time to spend with friends, family, and loved ones, and anticipation of warmer weather.
From the local community parades highlighted by participants waving our flag with pride to ceremonies filled with bright spring flowers draped in honor over the final resting places of fallen soldiers at cemeteries throughout the nation to the neighborhood barbeque where friends and family gather to commemorate the new season, Memorial Day offers Americans many opportunities to express gratitude to those who lost their lives in our nation’s military conflicts.
When it originated in 1868, Memorial Day was known as Decoration Day, because it was the day designated for Americans to honor the fallen soldiers from the Civil War by decorating their graves with flowers.
The first Memorial Day was observed on May 30, 1868, although roots of the holiday can be traced earlier, to the end of the Civil War when organized women’s groups in the south decorated the graves of fallen Confederate soldiers.
New York was the first state to recognize the holiday in 1873, followed in the next several years by most northern states. And eventually, the day became an occasion to honor all those who died in all American military conflicts. In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a federal holiday to be celebrated the last Monday in May.
A national Memorial Day tradition occurs each year at Arlington Cemetery when a small American flag is placed on each and every grave, and a wreath is laid, generally by either the President or Vice President, at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. People from across the country will also gather on the National Mall in our nation’s capital for the annual Memorial Day concert, offering Americans an opportunity to come together to remember and to honor the legacy of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country.
As in years past, Memorial Day will bring opportunities throughout the state for Mainers to pay their gratitude and respects to fallen soldiers. Whether you attend a local parade or ceremony, visit a memorial, or fly the American flag at half-staff until noon, it is important for all Americans, in their own way, to take this time to pay tribute to all those—generations past and present—who have fought for our freedom and the values that Americans hold so dear. We also must demonstrate to loved ones of fallen soldiers that we are a nation of gratitude for the sacrifices these soldiers have made for all of us.