Driven by regret that she once took her father’s military service for granted, Amy Luft has devoted herself to the cause of honoring veterans
Growing up in Sheboygan Falls in the 1980s, Amy Luft didn’t pay much attention to her father’s military service.
A World War II Army veteran who served in the Pacific from 1942 to 1945, Robert Akright had countless stories to tell his daughter and two sons.
Luft admits that during her childhood, awareness for veterans was not close to what it is today.
“It’s a ghost that haunts me daily,” Luft said. “I decided that through the work I do now, I will not live a trivial life and not take for granted what we have.”
It wasn’t until later in life that Luft, who now lives in Port Washington, realized she needed to dedicate more time to understanding her father’s story.
Her father died in 2001.
“I never took the opportunity to look him in the eye and shake his hand or give him a hug and tell him thank you for his service,” Luft said. “I took our freedom for granted.”
It’s that lost time with her father that drives Luft to promote veterans activities like the Honor Flight, for which she serves as first vice president.
One of Luft’s favorite stories from her father’s service was meeting a young boy in India named Abdul, whom Akright taught to read and speak English.
After his discharge in 1945, he received a Christmas card from Abdul the next year, but didn’t hear from him again for almost 60 years.
“One day the postman rang the door bell at my parents’ house and here was a letter addressed to him at the old address, which is not even a house anymore, and it’s from Abdul,” Luft said.
“The two of them got to write letters back and forth and he told my father how thankful he was that he helped him speak and do math and how he was able to do that with his children.”
Luft serves as the national security chairperson for the Wisconsin American Legion Auxiliary, secretary at the Auxiliary’s district level, second vice president at the county level and past president of Rose-Harms American Legion Post 355 Auxiliary in Grafton, where she is a life member.
As national security chairperson, Luft assists deployed and active duty military and their family with ways to support the troops.
She helped launch a “Snickers for Soldiers” campaign in conjunction with the United Service Organizations that asks Auxiliary members throughout the state to collect Snickers and other candy bars during unit meetings.
The boxes of treats are sent to the USO Lounge at General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee, where veterans and their families can spend time while passing through the airport.
The lounge allows vets to check e-mail, read magazines, have a snack and just relax before or after a flight.
“We donated more than 500 pounds of Snickers and other treats,” Luft said. “The USO was so overwhelmed with the response, they asked us to continue the program next year when they launch a new location at Fort McCoy.”
She is also helping start the state’s first Fisher House, a facility for veterans and their families who are receiving treatment at the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center in Milwaukee.
The facility will feature 16 bedroom suites and can accommodate eight residents per suite, Luft said.
She has helped raise almost $4 million for the facility.
Despite her efforts, she is modest about her accomplishments.
“I’m just one person,” she said. “All these events are team efforts. We are so fortunate in Ozaukee County to have a strong veterans force.”
With the April opening of American Legion Post 1881 on the campus of Concordia University Wisconsin in Mequon, there are now eight Legion posts in the county.
The Peter Wollner Legion Post 288 Auxiliary in Cedarburg won the National President’s Award for Excellence last year.
“I think it’s our Midwestern values that we know what’s important, so we really back our Legions and Veterans of Foreign War posts,” she said.
Luft encourages those related to an active soldier or to one who died to join a Legion or Auxiliary post as a way to honor a veteran.
“As an Auxiliary member, you will become a part of the largest patriotic women’s organization in the world,” she said.
Like Luft, who is a referral manager at Heritage Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Port Washington, many Auxiliary leaders work full time. If it wasn’t for the support she gets from Heritage, it’s unlikely Luft would be able to continue her service.
“Heritage is a huge supporter in backing me in my civic duties,” she said. “We also honor veterans here and we offer veteran services.”
When a veteran is admitted to Heritage, the center recognizes them by hanging a certificate on the resident’s door to honor their service.
On Veterans Day, the center busses veterans to the Rose-Harms Legion post for an open house and recognition event.
Luft has been a key volunteer in the Honor Flight program, which takes World War II and Korean War veterans to Washington, D.C., to view their war memorials.
Since the program’s inception in 2010, she has traveled on 24 of the 26 flights.
“I look at the plane and all I see is my dad,” she said. “Every veteran has a story and it’s just amazing what we hear.”
In her role as first vice president, she is involved with the logistics of filling the plane, calling veterans and guardians notifying them that they have been chosen for an upcoming flight.
She is also in charge of training guardians to ensure the veterans’ safety during the flight.
“The reward of seeing a veteran’s smiling face and sometimes tears of joy is enough inspiration to continue with this wonderful mission,” Luft said.
Memorial Day has a special meaning for Luft. This year, she will ride in the Cedarburg parade with three veterans from the Honor Flight movie and will speak at the community’s patriotic service.
“It’s a time for us to reflect on the sacrifices of those who gave their all for our freedom each and every day,” she said. “It’s a time to reflect and not take for granted what we have.”
Image information: World War II veteran Robert Akright is the inspiration for his daughter Amy Luft’s dedication to promoting veterans. Luft is a life member of Rose-Harms American Legion Post 355 Auxiliary in Grafton. Photo by Sam Arendt