"A remarkable life, a remarkable woman: Luna has proved to be a walking university in herself, and all who know her are thankful to God for her life."-Monsignor Robert Sheeran, Seton Hall University
One of the most profound responsibilities of the Wreaths Across America organization is to teach younger generations the value of freedom and the sacrifices it took to achieve and maintain liberty. Wreaths Across America recognizes a birthday which marks the beginning of a remarkable life of historical significance.
November 28, 1926, a little girl was born in Krakow, Poland. Nee Luna Fuss, later Luna Kaufman, was the second daughter born to Mania and Marek Fuss. She grew to be a fun-loving and mischevious prankster as she tagged along with her older sister Niusia.
Luna was only 12-years old when the war broke out and 13 when Germany invaded Poland in 1939. She is a survivor of the Holocaust of World War II. As Jews were being persecuted, isolated, and murdered by the Nazis, she and her family had personal items stolen and were forced from their ancestral home into the Krakow Ghetto. They would be deported to the Plaszow and then the Hasag-Skarzysko and Leipzig concentration camps. Every security and comfort she once knew as a child growing up in a democratic and civil society was quickly transformed into a daily survival of the fittest, and the lucky.
"We had already begun to realize our chances of survival were slim," Luna cites in her book. "But the will to live was strong even if life was a more difficult choice than death. We could not permit our tormentors to win, and the only fight we could wage was for survival."
Luna persevered despite being subjected daily to unthinkable human atrocities. As a result of what she describes as a "strange sort of ESP," Luna saved her Mother's life countless times during their incarceration in the camps. Her sister, Father, and other members of her family died as the result of a dangerous, hateful ideology of anti-semitism, and greed for dominance. Her life story is inextricably woven with those of our World War II military veterans who risked their own lives to save others.
Veterans, like Thurman Cleveland Pace, Jr. who was just 18-years old and fresh out of high school when he signed up for the U.S. Army in 1942, were known as liberators.
"My father served in World War I, and he wanted to enlist in World War II but he was too old, and they wouldn't take him," explains Thurman. "My Dad was patriotic, and I was taught to be patriotic. I wanted to do what my father had done."
To have Luna and Thurman's stories lost to the sands of time would be a missed opportunity to teach.
Luna authored her memoirs in the book called, Luna’s Life: A Journey of Forgiveness and Triumph published in 2009 with proceeds benefiting Seton Hall University.
It was 2015, during the Annual Wreath Escort to Arlington National Cemetery that this remarkable and energetic woman came into our lives. We've shared some of those experiences in Luna's Life of Tolerance, Understanding, and Peace, Part I.
In 2016, we had the privilege and honor to visit with Luna at her home in Manhattan. During that visit David "Mel" Russen Jr., (2nd Lieutenant in the United States Army, 1968-1970) who serves on the Board of Directors for Wreaths Across America, helped facilitate a meeting with Luna and Thurman. They shared incredible memories of World War II from different perspectives, and Luna learned more about the 17th Masonic District of New Jersey.
Thurman served in the U.S. Army assigned to 7th Army, 20th Armored Division and they liberated four camps including Dachau. "I was only 21 at the time, and we didn't know what we had come upon. The conditions were horrible, and there were all those people in striped pajamas. Once we witnessed and understood what had been done to these people you never heard of any guards from Dachau escaping us if you know what I mean."
The speech Thurman shares vividly describe the few hours he spent on the grounds of Dachau that are forever seared into his memory.
"Words cannot express the horrible, gut-wrenching sight that confronted us that day. The indefinable sickening odor of the dead and decaying bodies was beyond comprehension. Crazed prisoners in striped pajamas were everywhere. They didn't give the appearance of being human. A number of them could only crawl around on the ground, and a few were just lying on the ground staring up at us with eyes filled with pain and terror. I thought we had discovered "hell on earth." The scene and odor caused all of us to become nauseated, and many of us wretched."
Like Luna, Thurman has spent generous portions of his life sharing his experiences with others in the hope of avoiding a repeat of that dark history. He expresses in his speeches, "The subject is one that needs to be told, as there are those in the world today who deny it ever happened."
Luna admits that today her memories of World War II and the loss of her family in Nazi concentration camps seem like science fiction, but, she’s also quick to caution it’s a story that must never be forgotten to avoid the brutality and bloodshed of tyranny in the future. Luna says while intense in its scope, the Holocaust of World War II is not the only genocide in history citing Armenia, Darfur, Rwanda, and Bosnia as other examples.
During the meeting at the Mason's Lodge, Luna expressed gratitude for the opportunity to meet with Thurman and hear his recollections of World War II and the concentration camps.
"When you talk about it from the other side of the fence, it enforces that fact that it happened," Luna expressed. "Sometimes people will say the Jewish are self-serving when they talk about it, but this shouldn't be looked at as a Jewish issue, it's a human issue. We have to talk about it because it's the only way humanity will wake up."
Like Thurman, Luna didn't speak much of her experiences during the Holocaust until her children were older.
"My parents were bound and determined not to drop that legacy in our laps until we were old enough to deal with it," shares Luna's son Mark Kaufman. "I actually didn't hear a lot about my Mother's experiences until much later in life when she became involved in the survivor community and started giving lectures and such. My childhood memories of my Mother were of her being the troop leader for my sisters Brownie Troop, and she was in the League of Women Voters. Our life wasn't about her being a Holocaust survivor. It was all today forward kind of stuff."
Luna has demonstrated for her children and countless others that a person can choose animosity, bigotry, and hatred, or the pursuit of tolerance, understanding, and peace.
"Luna is a gem," shares Dr. Susanna Kokkonen, Director of Christian Friends of Yad Vashem. "We don't ask people to understand all of the complicated political and religious ideologies of the Holocaust because it is often too much to comprehend. We know, however, that people can sympathize and understand its implications through the stories of just one person. The most effective and important thing people can do is go and hear the stories of Holocaust survivors. Luna has a very positive outlook on life which is unique and the way she shares her story has done much to advance Jewish-Christian relations. I hope as many people as possible can hear her story. I feel very fortunate to get to know her, and we've become great friends."
While their experiences were different, Luna and Thurman are united by their memories of the Holocaust and their desire to teach younger generations the value of freedom and the sacrifices made to liberate the lives of others.
***This video contains some graphic images***
In just a few days, Paulette and her fellow Troop Greeters will welcome veterans, Gold Star families, and other traveling dignitaries who are part of the Annual Wreath Escort to Arlington National Cemetery.
Grand Marshals – Vietnam Medal of Honor Recipient, Colonel Roger Donlon, U.S. Army Special Forces (Retired) and his wife, Norma, a Vietnam-era Gold Star wife – will lead the caravan as it travels down the East Coast stopping at schools, memorials, and other locations along the way.
Driver Pat Wortham is an independent contractor for Dart Transit and a member of the Wreaths Across America honor fleet. He also has a rich history of military service in his family.
The holidays are traditionally celebrated with music so tune into WAA Radio throughout the holidays to hear musical Season's Greetings from some of the finest musicians in America!
"I was only 21 at the time, and we didn't know what we had come upon. The conditions were horrible, and there were all those people in striped pajamas."
"This contribution, like the one we made last year, will help provide an opportunity for professional drivers to transport wreaths across the United States.
Rhonda says she's experienced the "power of the wreath" watching people react to her daughter's presentations.
The telegram from the Department of War said that Albert and two other men had been shot down near Wollseifen, Germany, on Dec. 12, and that they had been missing since.
Yes! There's still time to sponsor a veterans' remembrance wreath in time for National Wreaths Across America Day.
"We were replacements," explained Charles. "My best friend Luke Moore and I went over together. He was a First scout, and I was a Second scout. We were taking a town when we were shot at by a sniper..."
Wreaths Across America is forever grateful for the thousands of volunteers who place veterans' remembrance wreaths on the headstones of our fallen as they say their names aloud every December. Remember, we are guests on the hallowed grounds of participating cemeteries and we ask that you honor their rules and regulations. If you're volunteering at Arlington this year, here's what you need to know.
Wreaths Across America announces open loads available as the Honor Fleet expands to transport America's Respect.
"I remember back then when we were told several times Vincent wouldn't make it through the night and I went to the chapel and said, 'God is there anything I can do to change your mind? He's our only son."
"One thing I will never forget is getting into Arlington and it was a cold, rainy day with freezing rain, and I remember looking around at all the empty headstones thinking to myself oh my God how are we going to do this."
"As part of our Wreaths Across America project, we work with the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, the Explorers, Young Marines, and sometimes 4H members," Mike explains. "We try to engage our groups the way that I think the founder of Wreaths Across America intended."
The Civil Air Patrol Cadets meant the world to Rick. For three years he accompanied cadets to Arlington National Cemetery and assisted with laying wreaths at the cemetery. This trip changed the lives of many cadets.
"It was so moving coming down I95 because people were waving flags, honking their horns, giving us thumbs up, and saluting us."
"We have a dedicated group of compassionate people who come together to help military veterans," Rebecca explains. "If someone reaches out to us and says 'hey we need help getting a veteran's roof shingled' then we try to get it done."
“Every year we have so many professional drivers, bikers, police officers and other first responders, ask us how they can get involved, even if they can’t transport wreaths,” said Karen Worcester, executive director, Wreaths Across America.
"There are a lot of similarities between the military and the trucking industry," Rob explains. "I think that's why you see a lot of veterans successful as truck drivers."
Johnny Vet: Freedom Isn’t Free is a dynamic and inspirational musical journey of the men and women who have fought the nation’s wars and how those same men and women, as veterans, have helped to shape the nation and its destiny.
"History can be studied in many ways, and it's important to do so for a contextual understanding of the journey taken by an individual, organization, or nation."
"It's heart-wrenching to see that and participate in that, Rick shares. "To see all the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, and uncles waiting there to have a wreath to place on their family member's headstone, there are just no words for it, none."
"We're just Moms who serve through the organization to make sure that our children's names and lives are not forgotten."
From our standpoint, it's a relatively small thing to do, and we're proud to be a part of the mission."
"With NFI managing the logistics, the sky is the limit. They will help make the entire operation more efficient,” said Debbie Sparks, Director Corporate Development and Community Relations, Wreaths Across America.
Luann started her volunteer efforts with Wreaths Across America in 2015 after hearing about it from a friend who was participating with her DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) group. She's working to sponsor wreaths to cover all of the known heroes laid to rest at Oaklawn.
"I always choose our drivers who are military veterans for these loads and they are proud and honored to have the opportunity to recognize our fallen heroes and their families."
In referencing the Wreaths Across America Stem to Stone Remembrance Tree program Roger spoke to the value and necessity of "planting seeds of patriotism" in younger generations.
Monica explains Maverick has a tremendous amount of pride hauling America's respect and not only do they assign the wreath loads to their drivers who are veterans but those drivers are some of the industry's best.
She shows those who are filled with hate how to make the choice not to be…she had reason and justification for hatred but instead chose to live her life pursuing a role of community outreach and advocacy building understanding and respect between faiths
Dr in Holocaust Studies Susanna Kokkomen: Interview 2/2017 Yad Vashem in 2009 met Luna and spoken together in Christian Communities
Director of Christian Friends of Yad Vashem since 2008
(Yad Vashem created 1953 by Israeli Parliament Iash 56:5 Memorial & Name ICEJ International Christian Embassy Museum of the Bible in Washington DC opening in 2017
Yad Vashem started from 1946 archive from Hungarian survivor. It serves as model and in 2006 decided to start to build relations between Jews and Christians.
Yad Vashem looks at Holocaust: recognize military conflict and so forth but a story of individual is at center of story. Don’t ask people to understand everything like religious conflicts but rather sympathize with one person…one of most famous Anne Frank-one girl but people can remember her world wide