Memorial Day is often seen as the kickoff to the summer season — a three-day weekend filled with barbecues and outdoor activities.

But its true meaning is a solemn one: It is a day of remembrance created to honor those who have fallen in the armed services defending the United States of America.

Sisters veterans organizations will mark the day in honor and remembrance at 11 a.m. on Monday, May 27, at the Village Green. American Legion Commander Lance Trowbridge will serve as master of ceremonies. The keynote address will be given by SSAF Brig. General Jim Cunningham. The Sisters Veteran served his country for more than 40 years, as an Air Force pilot and as commander of the Air National Guard. He has since served his community on several nonprofit boards, including Sisters Habitat for Humanity and Sisters Folk Festival.

Cunningham did two tours of duty during the Vietnam conflict in the air arm of a special operations program. He flew OV-10 Broncos in Forward Air Control — a singularly dangerous mission that involved target acquisition and required flying “low and slow” in enemy territory.

“FAC was the mission, but I didn’t do it in Vietnam,” Cunningham says. “I did it in other places, so it was more clandestine.”

He recalls sitting with fellow pilots watching then-President Richard Nixon on TV, emphatically denying that such a mission even existed. It was then that Cunningham began to question the validity of the war.

Now, he considers Vietnam “the wrong war —pure and simple.” Nevertheless, he is proud to have served.

Cunningham served eight years on active duty and in 1977 he was in the reserves. In 1979, he joined the Oregon Air National Guard, where he would serve as commander until his retirement in 2006 at the rank of Brigadier General.

From 1989 to 2004, he was also a United Airlines pilot.

The Air National Guard is tasked with continental defense, a role that became all-to-immediate on September 11, 2001.

Cunningham was in Sisters that day, visiting his parents.

“I got a call from Salem saying ‘You’re the ranking National Guard officer in the state. You need to get to Salem right away. The Adjutant General is in the Pentagon.’”

Within hours, “we were up on alert with our entire fleet,” Cunningham recalled.

It wasn’t until days after September 11 that Cunningham saw footage of the terrorist attacks.

Cunningham consistently promotes an ethic of service — noting that military service is far from the only avenue by which to serve your community and fellow man.

What is now known as Memorial Day began in the 1860s as Decoration Day — a day on which to honor the hundreds of thousands of dead from the recently concluded Civil War.

General John A. Logan proclaimed, “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.”

On the first Decoration Day, General James Garfield — who would later be elected President of the United States — gave a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, and 5,000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried

there.

In the wake of World War I and World War II, the occasion, which had come to be known as Memorial Day, grew to include the fallen of all American conflicts. In 1968, under the Uniform Holiday Act, the federal government established the official observance on the last Monday in May and, effective in 1971, the day became a federal holiday.

The Sisters Memorial Day Service is a long-established tradition, bringing the focus of the day back to its original intent. Fellowship and good times are not neglected, however. The services on Monday will be followed by a barbecue hamburger lunch at the Village Green pavilion. The community is

invited.