The mission of Wreaths Across America is to remember, honor, and teach and we’re sharing some of the precious moments Holocaust Survivor Luna Kaufman has spent with us reminiscing about some of her life’s stories and grand accomplishments. Luna's Life of Tolerance, Understanding, and Peace; A Gift to Us All will be presented over the coming months in featured blog posts. Luna and World War II liberator Thurman Pace will remember their experiences of World War II and the Holocaust together. We'll share Luna's memories of her work with the Liberation Monument in honor of its creator Natan Rapoport and WW II Liberators, and her efforts to foster greater understanding and peace, particularly in Jewish-Christian relations.
“Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction. It is not ours by inheritance; it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation, for it comes only once to a people. Those who have known freedom and then lost it have never known it again.” ~ Gov. Ronald Reagan-January 5, 1967
The mission of Wreaths Across America is to remember our fallen heroes, honor those who serve and teach younger generations the value of freedom. That last mission objective may be the most difficult goal to achieve.
Today, in a pop-culture society driven by instant communication, a barrage of media content with mixed messages, and a constant desire for entertainment, it is a challenge to compete for the attention of younger generations. It’s an even tougher sell when information to impart from lessons learned happened over seventy-five years ago.
A history lesson conjures up thoughts of boredom and irrelevance. After all, that was “back then,” not today. Even worse, to fully grasp the trials and tribulations of our nation’s founding and defense of freedom requires understanding not just of historical facts but ideologies as well, both political and religious.
Until freedom is taken away what frame of reference would younger generations, have today for appreciating its value and comprehending the crushing personal sacrifices made over the course of our history to protect “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”? Until challenged by death the precious and ephemeral gift of life is often not fully appreciated.
This nation’s future of peace, unity, and “justice for all” requires knowledge and understanding of our past conflicts, how they got started, how they escalated and how they are resolved.
Rudyard Kipling once wrote, “If history were told in the form of stories it would never be forgotten.”
This is the story of one Holocaust survivor and her life-long mission to foster a culture of peace through education, advocacy, and mutual respect.
Luna Kaufman knows first hand the heartache and despair that is war. At just twelve years old she was victimized by and witnessed the barbaric atrocities of which humankind is capable when driven by blind hatred and ignorance. Luna Kaufman is a survivor of the Holocaust of World War II, yet she is not a bitter woman. Quite the opposite in fact. Luna has a zeal for living which is a testament that people have a choice as to how they respond to influences in their lives, good and bad.
For over seventy-five years, Luna has been exacting her revenge against the injustices she and millions of others suffered by living her life to its fullest and giving back through community service and lessons of tolerance and respect.
It would be a complete travesty of justice should we forget the life and experiences of Luna Kaufman. Luna authored her memoirs in the book called, Luna’s Life: A Journey of Forgiveness and Triumph published in 2009.
Wreaths Across America met this charismatic woman in 2015 during the Annual Wreath Escort to Arlington National Cemetery. There we saw the powerful Liberation Monument in Liberty State Park, New Jersey and heard a portion of her story.
Luna admits that today her memories of the war and the loss of her family and millions of others in Nazi concentration camps seem like science fiction, but she’s quick to caution it’s a story that must never be forgotten to avoid the brutality and bloodshed of tyranny in the future. She also reminds us that citizens of other countries have suffered genocide since WW II.
In 2016, Luna joined Wreaths Across America in Maine for a Stem to Stone tree-tagging dedication where she remembered her family members killed during the Holocaust and honored WW II liberators.
Luna explains that before the rise of Hitler Germany was the America of Europe; democratic and liberal. She and her family were among the nine million Jews who lived in European countries that would wind up being invaded and occupied as the Nazis carried out their state-sponsored extermination of the population.
In this video and those that will follow Luna shares her memories of how her family was initially separated when the war broke out and of her fierce determination to take care of her Mother.
As part of the process of humiliation and torture used to break their will, the Nazis never spoke their names. They were identified only as a number; Luna was 648, and her Mother was 255. Luna never had her number tattooed on her arm as did many of the concentration camp victims. Instead, Luna kept her prison dress so she would always have physical proof that she was a "child of the Holocaust."
***This video contains some graphic images***
Wreaths Across America will share more of Luna's story including a visit we facilitated with World War II liberator Thurman Pace.
Especially meaningful is the location of the Grove, which is adjacent to the soon-to-be-opened Medal of Honor Remembrance Park. From this vantage point, The Old Guard will continue to stand watch over America’s fallen heroes.
Kevin says driving Armellini's load of wreaths in the escort to VA National Cemetery in Lake Worth along with the Walmart trucks is a meaningful experience for him emotionally because of honoring veterans, but he says there's also a more physical kind of excitement as a professional driver.
Starting at the end of this month, as we countdown to Wreath Day, we would like to invite you to appear on our national webcast/webinar series to tell us about the local veterans buried in your community. We will also run your interview on WAA Radio and share on social media and in the newsletter.
"If we don't teach this younger generation that freedom is not free they're going to forget and not understand the sacrifice made by these men and women who keep us free and safe. I don't know where this country would be if not for the brave people who step up and volunteer to serve in our military. It's really scary to think of where we'd be without a powerful military."
Thinking about Christmas during July provides us with the perfect opportunity to encourage others to get involved with our mission by sharing the stories of their hometown heroes while explaining, however, to those not familiar we're not "decorating graves."
We are humbled by the hundreds of thousands of people who get involved every year on National Wreaths Across America Day at Arlington National Cemetery and at over twelve hundred participating cemeteries in paying tribute to our veterans. One of those passionate and dedicated individuals is Ellen O'Neil Fuller.
Not only does Wade Gunter place a remembrance wreath on the headstone of a fallen service member at Arlington National Cemetery (ANC), he says their name aloud when he props it against the stone. It's what Wade does next that takes the Wreaths Across America mission to remember, honor, and teach to a higher level.
"We're very fortunate to find carriers, veterans, and non-veterans that want to participate in the program. We get drivers every year who call us to get involved."
From the white wigs to the tailored red coats every aspect of the United States Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps is designed with history and field music in mind. The unit was formed in 1960 and according to SFC Martin was originally made up of non-musician infantrymen, harkening back to the field musicians of the Continental Army.
"When it comes to Wreaths Across America, we don't do what we do for the applause of men; we do it because of how important it is to the Gold Star families we've connected with over the years."
"We knew at the time it was inevitable he'd be deployed," Scott explains. "He was just a few days shy of being promoted to Sergeant when his Humvee hit an IED (improvised explosive device) in Iraq."
"I remember being in the cemetery years ago and seeing one section, it was the World War I section, near Fort Myer that was all covered in wreaths, and I was wondering who the heck put them there," Jari explains. "I know what struck me about it. It was an old section that no family members would be coming to visit."
"They have to learn and understand the history to know of all the people who have given their lives to make this country what it is today. We're honored and proud to be part of Wreaths Across America and we look forward to being part of the future."
Like any military maneuver, music performance requires individual excellence in a synchronized effort that requires discipline to achieve the desired goal.
They know they have come to serve those who served us by placing a remembrance wreath on their headstone while saying their name. Like Al, every volunteer we speak with says they come away from the day knowing they have contributed to something so much bigger than themselves.
"The statue now serves as inspiration for young people to say yes, the military is something that we should support because they come to rescue life. They don't always come to conquer the land and certainly not American soldiers. We don't go anywhere to conquer lands we go to help liberate people."
"As the saying goes we all gave some, but some gave all, and that resonates with me all the time," explains Vince. "This is our way of giving back and paying tribute to the fallen because those people are the heroes."
"We seem to be at a time in history when Americans are having a hard time agreeing on anything. We’re divided in so many ways. But at the heart of it, most of us can agree on one thing: We are Americans."
"It was really hard because I couldn't hug her. As soon as she put her hand on the wreath, I started to cry, and I could tell she was starting to tear up."
In her keynote address, Karen Worcester thanked the UMA for the honor and shared a personal story of why Wreaths Across America does what it does. In a heartfelt and often tearful delivery, Karen told the story of Edith Knowles, a Gold Star Sister who lost her brother, Bud, during World War II.
I knew I had the contacts in the trucking industry," Barry explains of his initial involvement with the organization. "I just had to get people to believe in Wreaths Across America they way I did."
"She truly gets the Wreaths Across America mission to remember, honor and teach and how important it is to our families but most importantly the families of those who have served."
"When you see thousands of volunteers flood through the gates to lay wreaths, it does help restore your faith in America and that our country has not lost its core value of appreciating the sacrifice of our soldiers and veterans and saluting them while teaching the next generation how important it is to remember."
Taya says the best way to show appreciation and respect for military families is through simple gestures like the one Wreaths Across America's founder Morrill Worcester made back in 1992 when he laid the first hand-made balsam fir remembrance wreath on the headstone of a fallen hero in Arlington National Cemetery.
Her parents, Vernon and Regina Garner represented the true American dream. They were a young entrepreneurial couple creating a business to share with future generations of their family. Garner Trucking started in 1960 with one truck and has grown to over one hundred trucks and four hundred trailers today.
"With the most gentle little kisses using the very tip of his tongue like a little butterfly he licked the tears off my cheek as if he was saying, 'Mom, I've got you, don't worry I'm right here with you."
“We didn’t understand the scope of the effort though until we attended the event. The energy and enthusiasm for WAA was mind-blowing and we left with great contacts and started to formulate a proposal right away for the executive team to consider getting involved with the mission.”
"I was very determined to survive the war. I never thought I would not survive. If I had allowed myself to think that I would have been done. My big goal was to revenge my past but not with bitterness and vengeance."