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.
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."
Jeff says a lot of drivers who work for Buchheit think it would be exciting to participate in the Wreaths Across America effort. They're right! However, hauling a truckload of America's respect is a privileged duty reserved for certain employees.
It seems fitting that on Earth Day this year Wreaths Across America will pay tribute to our nation's EOD Technicians in a Stem to Stone Tree-Tagging event on April 22 during which the names of over three hundred fallen service members will be said aloud as their replica dog tags are placed on the tip land in Maine.
Mike and Barbara are proud and patriotic Americans who understand the great personal sacrifices of our military families. They have also witnessed the powerful impact one fresh balsam fir wreath with a red bow has on the living. Mike gets choked up when he recalls one particular example.
"We're always conscientious about the carbon footprint we leave so we have to be sure the process is safe, efficient, and compliant with federal regulations," Debbie explains. "We want to make sure it's fuel efficient and a good run, that we've got the truck full, that a rested driver is ready to go, and all that plays into the coordination effort."
Nicole says she's thankful for those fellow Location Coordinators who have helped her and she's honored to provide the same support to those who might be thinking about starting a Wreaths Across America ceremony in their community cemetery.
It was inspiring last year when Jimmy and his wife Cathy realized their volunteer effort with Wreaths Across America was helping the organization grow and indeed making an impression on younger generations.
“The trucking community has been extremely dedicated to Wreaths Across America over the years, but support doesn’t come exclusively from drivers,” Karen Worcester explained. “Some of the most important contributions come from those behind the scenes, like Wendy.
Bill admits he too was "hooked" on the effort to remember, honor, and teach as soon as he saw a fresh, hand-made remembrance wreath laying against the headstone of a fallen hero over the holidays.
Peter stands 16.3 hands tall and was selected as a Caisson Platoon horse because of his color, size, focus, and behavior. Those who met Peter at his Open House on St. Patrick's Day were amazed at his size and docile temperament with one woman referring to him as a "gentle giant."
"It doesn't all happen in Arlington. It's all across the country, and perhaps you could start your involvement in your hometown and involve your family so people can see just how important trucking is to the mission.
"It makes these drivers feel good about themselves, it makes them feel good about their companies, it makes them feel good about their country and being Americans. They're so proud and when you've got all those things working in the same direction that's a win-win for everybody."
"I've seen the pictures of course," Don explains. "It's just not the same to see every-day people not affiliated with Wreaths Across America in any other way would take the effort to buy a fresh flag and stand outside of their home or office in the freezing drizzle and show their pride as an American as we drove through was heart-warming."
Indeed it was the joyous voices of children singing on a snowy morning in December last year at Kennebunk High School during the Annual Wreath Escort to Arlington National Cemetery that gave rise to the 2017 Wreaths Across America theme, "I'm an American."
Placing fresh, hand-made balsam remembrance wreaths on the headstones of veterans across the country in December requires tremendous logistics and unyielding support from the trucking industry.
Wreaths Across America shows its gratitude and appreciation for all those involved in transporting America's respect with "Trucking Tributes." These stories will introduce you to the men and women of the industry who make our mission possible like Steven Meyer and Arpin Van Lines.
"Wreaths Across America has been a part of my life that has assisted in my healing from the loss of my oldest son," Diana explains. "It allows me to "give back" in his memory and service." Read more about Diana's volunteer service in Kansas and how you can get involved too in our mission to remember, honor, and teach.
"All Michael ever wanted to do is join the military and serve the country," explains Gold Star Dad and professional driver Mike Stansbery. Michael Jr. was killed in Iraq in 2010. In this video, you can see how the Stansbery's have been able to honor Michael from Stem to Stone.
"When the ship was opened up by a German U-Boat torpedo it began to take on water and sink. Witnesses report that through the pandemonium four Army Chaplains brought hope in despair and light in darkness." Read about WAA's tree dedication to the Four Chaplains here.
Despite freezing rain, an estimated 44,000 volunteers placed 245,000 remembrance wreaths, and many hands on January 28th will make quick work of picking up those wreaths. Details Here.
Wreaths Across America launched its inaugural Living History Project in December of 2016 with the support of stalwart volunteers who believe similarly as Col. Frank Blazich Jr. that "if you don't know where you've been then it's difficult to know where you're going." See video here.
The mission to honor those who serve and their families is important to Wayne on a deeply personal level. As a Vietnam Veteran, Wayne recalls there was no "welcome home" and the disrespectful treatment returning soldiers received was disheartening. Read more about WAA's Chairman of the Board and his commitment to WAA here.