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Susan Collins

The Gratitude of a Nation
By Senator Susan Collins
May 19, 2006 - 3:48:00 PM

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Senator Susan M. Collins represents the State of Maine in the U.S. Senate.
"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 A. 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 typifies 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 a fresh new season, time to spend with friends, family, and loved ones, and anticipation of warm summer 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.

Our nation's capital is also host each year to a National Memorial Day parade where participants come from all over the nation. I am proud that this year, the Young Marines of Kennebec Valley will be traveling to Washington, D.C. to march in the national parade. The Young Marines is an educational program for young men and women, which teaches its members the importance of strong, moral character, and a healthy, drug-free lifestyle that includes physical fitness. I am a long-time supporter of the Young Marines and know they will represent our state well in the upcoming Memorial Day event in Washington.

This year, I am honored to be part of an extraordinary event in Maine, which is also a long time in coming. An 85-year-old World War II veteran who now lives in Western Maine fought hard and nobly for our nation and earned a number of outstanding accolades for his service.

But sadly, he never received the many medals that he earned. So decades later, my office worked with his family to obtain these medals, including the Good Conduct Medal, the American Defense Service Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal. These medals will soon be presented to him and I am proud to be taking part in this event alongside his friends and loved ones.

As in year's past, Memorial Day will bring opportunities throughout the state for Mainers to pay their gratitude and respects to fallen soldiers. To highlight just a few events in our state: The Aroostook Veterans will commemorate the day with an event at the Northern Maine Veterans Cemetery in Caribou; in Wells, a parade will begin at 9 AM from the Wells High School; a parade in York will start at St. Christopher's Church and finish at the York Cemetery; the City of Portland will be hosting a parade at 11 AM; and in Augusta, the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), in conjunction with the Maine Veterans Coordinating Committee and Maine Veterans Service will be holding two ceremonies at the Maine Veterans Cemeteries.

But 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.

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