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WWII Navy vet honored at HMTC Children’s Memorial Garden

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Surrounded by family, city officials and Boy and Girl Scouts, lifelong Glen Cove resident Robert Praver, 95, a WWII Navy veteran, received a knot board on Sunday from the Scouts in a garden that highlights the voices of those oppressed by a regime that Praver once fought against.

“Bob, we love having you as a resident of Glen Cove and thank you for your service and thank you for being such a sweetheart,” Nassau County Legislator Delia De-Riggi Whitton said.

The Nassau County Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center’s Children’s Memorial Garden, dedicated in 2003 to the 1.5 million Jewish children who died in the Holocaust, has undergone a number of renovations over the past years, including the placement of stanchions etched with quotes of victims, survivors and witnesses to the Holocaust. A butterfly, which has become an international symbol of the young victims of the Holocaust, can also be found on each stanchion.

Praver, often referred to as the member of the “Greatest Generation” and “one of Glen Cove’s favorite residents,” helped work on the garden that was once part of the Harriet and Harold Pratt estate. “It’s been a labor of love and it was a lot of work,” Praver said, “but it was not hard work because as I said, it was a labor of love and every moment of it was enjoyable.”

DeRiggi-Whitton compared the fragility of a butterfly to that of human beings. “But that monarch butterfly flies every year from the North East to Mexico and it makes it,” she said. “I think, the beautiful spirit of our people is a lot stronger than maybe what people give it credit for.”

Not a moment of Praver’s life has been wasted, U.S. Army Maj. Fred Nielsen said. In his younger days, as a Boy Scout who achieved the rank of Eagle Scout, he spoke on the TransAtlantic radio from Canada to British Boy Scouts who were facing the bombing of London during WWII and in his days in the U.S. Navy he studied engineering and served aboard the USS Hanford.

Even today, through his work in the garden, he made sure the division and inequality that resulted in the Holocaust in German-occupied Europe, systematically murdering six million Jewish people between 1941 and 1945, would not be forgotten and not repeated in future.

City of Glen Cove Mayor Tim Tenke reflected on a dark moment in Glen Cove in 2019, the defacing of the HMTC property with anti-Semitic graffiti and the need for education to prevent such acts. “To me that’s just people who are ignorant about what the symbolism means to people,” he said, “and I think the best way to get past that is education and talking to people like Bob Praver.”

It was in the garden that Praver met Nielsen, who was with his friends, the Komoto-Weber family, for a birthday scavenger hunt in the Welwyn Preserve that surrounds HMTC.

“I was walking through this garden with a young friend of mine and I happened to have a clip board; I always have a clip board,” Nielsen recalled. “Bob Praver was just leaving his work in the garden for the day and he spotted a strange man with a clip board. He said, ‘Well it looks like you’re doing something important. What are you up to?’ Because of that conversation, he began telling me what he’s up to and what he’s been up to for these years.”

Before leaving, Nielsen said, he took down Praver’s contact information and met him in the garden not too long after. “This man amazed me,” Nielsen said. “Ninety five years. None of it wasted. All of it spent in service. And because he’s 95, his service inspires. So, I said, ‘Bob, would you meet some Scouts?’ And he said, ‘Of course, I was a Boy Scout.’”

Nielsen then arranged for the Scouts to receive a tour through the Children’s Memorial Garden by HMTC staff, receiving badges afterwards.

Part of what Nielsen does as an active Glen Cove resident, Tenke said, is pair together young Boy and Girl Scouts with those from older generations so that they can learn from one another.

“When you think about, he wasn’t that much older than you guys when he went oversees to a part of the world that he didn’t know anything about other than the fact that he had to protect people,” DeRiggi-Whitton said to the Scouts at Sunday’s ceremony.

Boy Scout Joseph Sullivan, 12, and karate student Kuga Rex Weber, 12, used the stories Praver told them to create the knot board presented to him on Sunday.

“That kind of dialogue is another thing that this garden is about, to hear the perspective from someone while they can,” Nielsen said. “Precious years are passing by. These boys will never forget.”

Praver explained that he was completely “flabbergasted” by the dedications and honors he received that Sunday afternoon. “This is so creative,” Praver said of his knot board. “It’s a montage of Boy Scouting and navy and the butterfly being the symbol of the 1.5 million Jewish children who perished and were mostly murdered in the Holocaust. It’s a beautiful memento.”

Kuga’s mother said that her children share both Jewish and Japanese backgrounds, making the ceremony and the garden resonate ever so deeply. “America and Japan used to be enemies, but now we’re all coming together in this place,” Yuri Komoto said. “It can not be a coincidence. I’m very happy and honored and it feels great to be a part of it.”