This anecdote by Chaplain Judah Nadich was first published in Rabbis in Uniform.
When the first rocket bombs began falling on London, three Chaplains stationed in the city were alerted for 24-hour duty. Unlike the Nazi air raids to which we had long been accustomed, there could be no advance warning for the new type of rocket bombs. The three Chaplains, of course, represented the three major faiths. I was the Jewish Chaplain.
One morning, shortly after seven o’clock, my phone rang and I was instructed to come as quickly as possible to the site of an American Army billet. The soldiers residing in the building had been preparing to leave for their day’s duties when a Nazi V-1 dropped in front of the building. A truck loaded with soldiers that was about to pull away for the central mess hall had been blown into the air and the entire building had collapsed. We three Chaplains were called to help in the rescue, administer rites and give whatever other aid we could to the sufferers. After completion of the rescue operation we followed the injured to the Army hospital.
Among the Jewish soldiers whom I visited that morning there was one who appeared to be on the verge of death. His face was blackened, his eyes were closed; he seemed to have difficulty breathing. I leaned down close to his face and whispered gently into his ear: “Soldier, this is the Jewish Chaplain. I am a rabbi. Is there anything I can do for you?”
The soldier drew a quick breath and without opening his eyes began speaking in a low voice. As I strained to hear his words, I took out my pencil and notebook to record what undoubtedly would be a last message to a mother or wife or sweetheart. This is what came from his lips:
“Chaplain, I am so glad you came. Perhaps you will be able to help me; I am so upset. When the bomb dropped I had just finished davening. I was wrapping up my tefillin. Then it happened. The building collapsed and my tefillin disappeared. How will I be able to daven again? Where shall I find new tefillin?”
A smile of relief must have come to my face when I realized that this boy was going to live. I quickly assured him that he need have no further worry on this score, that within the hour I would be back from my office with a brand new pair of phylacteries for him.
The end of the story occurred some seven years later when I was serving as rabbi in Brookline, Massachusetts. One Sunday morning a tall, handsome young man was ushered into my office unannounced. Seeing the puzzled look on my face, he said: You don’t recognize me, I am sure. But do you remember bringing a pair of tefillin to the hospital bed of a soldier injured in the collapse of his billet by a V-1 in London back in 1944? I am that soldier. I live in the Boston area, and I came in this morning to give you my thanks.”
Published in the Three Weeks 5782 Jewish-American Warrior