By: Chaplain Harry Z. Schectman, USA
I was assigned to 10th Army Headquarters for the historic April 1, 1945 invasion of Okinawa. We left the Hawaiian Islands on March 7, which meant I had to make preparations for celebrating Passover aboard ship. In 1945, the first seder fell on the evening of March 28. Knowing the difficulty of unloading supplies from the holds, I ordered my assistant to place the Passover provisions on deck where they would be accessible at the proper time.
Two days before Passover, zig-zagging out of the path of Jap submarines, playing hide-and-seek with Jap planes, and stealthily slipping around mines, we anchored off Eniwetok. This was the proper time to start unpacking the Passover supplies. But they were nowhere to be found on any deck. Unconcerned, we assumed that the crew must have placed them in the hold after all. A search through five holds, however, failed to turn up the Passover supplies, and we couldn’t go into the sixth hold because it was filled with vehicles.
Since we were anchored off Eniwetok, I asked for permission to take a boat to the island so that I could search for Passover supplies at the chapel. Permission was granted, and the other officers in my outfit were given leave to go ashore with me. At the chapel I found a treasure of Passover matzah, wine, and canned food which had been sent ahead by the chaplain assigned to conduct Passover services on Eniwetok. I left enough supplies behind for him.
Transferring the stuff from our boat to the ship proved somewhat difficult. A wind had blown up, and every time the boat tried to get near the ship, the high waves pushed it back. It was impossible to step from the boat onto the landing platform of the ship with heavy cartons of matzah and wine. Finally, some of the officers jumped onto the landing and some remained on the boat, and we began tossing the cartons across at the risk of life, matzah, and wine. Our seder aboard ship was very interesting and enjoyable, except for one disaster. The ship provided us with paper cups from the Navy’s supply, and they were definitely not meant for wine. For as soon as we poured the wine into the cups, it saturated through to the white tablecloths. So we couldn’t enjoy the wine which was so hazardously obtained.
Whatever happened to the supplies I had sent to the ship before embarking at Hawaii? About three months after the battle of Okinawa ended with an American victory, and all the ships in the harbor were unloaded, I received a phone call from the harbor commander to pick up a thousand boxes of matzah that were lying on the beach. No longer able to use 1,000 pounds of matzah, I called up all the non Jewish chaplains on the island and the matzah soon became communion bread. What happened to the wine? Perhaps it evaporated.
Excerpted from “Rabbis in Uniform”