“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 Gen. 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 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 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 barbecue 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 May 30, 1868, although the 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 had 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 also gathered on the National Mall in our nation’s capital for the 21st annual National Memorial Day concert, offering Americans an opportunity to come together to remember and to honor the legacy of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

As in years past, Memorial Day brought opportunities throughout the state for Mainers to pay their gratitude and respects to fallen soldiers. I joined community leaders, veterans, school groups,and neighborhood organizations in Gorham’s Memorial Day Parade.

I was also honored to take part in a special ceremony and wreath-laying hosted by the Maine Veterans’ Coordinating Committee and the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services at the Maine Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery in Augusta.

To highlight just a few more events in our state: in my hometown of Caribou, the Loring Job Corps Honor Guard led a Memorial Day program at the Veterans Memorial Cemetery; the Cole Land Transportation Museum in Bangor hosted a special commemoration service and concert by the Brewer High School Band; a memorial stone and bench were unveiled at Veterans Memorial Park in Lewiston after the Twin Cities’ annual parade; the communities of Brunswick and Topsham honored the “Greatest Generation” with a parade and ceremony.

In addition to these and the many other parades and ceremonies around our state, Portland’s annual Memorial Day Parade took place along Congress Street to Monument Square, where the parade culminated in a memorial ceremony.

Whether you attended a local parade or ceremony, visited a memorial, or flew the American Flag at half-staff until noon, it is important that all Americans, in their own way, took 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 the loved ones of fallen soldiers that we are a nation of gratitude for the sacrifices these soldiers have made for all of us.

Republican Susan M. Collins is serving her third six-year term in the United States Senate. She is the 15th woman in history to be elected to the Senate in her own right.