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.
"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.
The September edition of the Military Musicians Showcase goes out to jazz lovers!
As Aaron Van Beek, Location Coordinator for Sioux Center, Iowa placed Chris Kyle's tag in Maine the announcement was made that the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation and Wreaths Across America have agreed to collaborate with the support of their respective programs.
Helen told us about her brother, Ralph H. Johnson, who received the Medal of Honor posthumously following his heroic actions in Vietnam in 1968.
Yes. At Wreaths Across America, we've heard about the "Walmart Heart," and we're honored to be welcoming a group next month that has decided to combine their charity effort with their patriotism and respect.
Brandon says last year spending time at Arlington National Cemetery on National Wreaths Across America Day with fellow employees of Cowan Systems, Inc. was an educational and humbling experience.
"It's been a dream of mine to go back to Arlington with my Mom to be a part of National Wreaths Across America Day to place remembrance wreaths on my grandparents' graves."
According to Gretchen CFI went above and beyond two years ago when they helped make her dream come true.
"When we did that project we had one hundred and thirty-five of our employees at that time who had served in the military and that's a big percentage of employees for one company. We think that it's important to recognize their service."
Christa Parker's love for her son, country, and volunteerism with Wreaths Across America knows no boundaries, quite literally. Her volunteer efforts frequently have her crossing states lines and her stamina and organizational efforts are an inspiration to all.
When asked if he could describe the power of the veterans' remembrance wreath he admitted it was a challenge to put into words, yet hesitated only for a moment.
One highlight from this year's performance came when Six-String Soldiers invited children of all ages to the stage to sing along with them, the Rick Charrette song, I'm An American! It echoed through the valley where replica dog tags of fallen heroes hang among the balsam fir trees' tips that will be used to make veterans remembrance wreaths.
"Rain, snow, or sunshine as you know these guys walk the walk, so we're here to dedicate this section of the tip land to the Old Guard," proclaims Wayne Hanson, Chairman of the Board for Wreaths Across America. "We certainly appreciate everything they do for us."
It was, in fact, a competitor of Abilene Motor Express who reached out to them to tell them about Wreaths Across America and Will says once the owners, Keith and Kolen Jones heard about the effort they were one hundred percent behind it right away.
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.