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By: Chaplain Sheldon Lewis, USA (RET.) 
Excerpted from his memoir, Letters Home: A Jewish Chaplain’s Vietnam Memoir

Even before the High Holidays, we were preparing for the joyful festival of Sukkot. We would be scattered throughout the region, but we hoped to be ambitious. The JWB supplied the four species of the produce of the soil, the lulav and etrog, so vital for this traditional holiday of harvest and thanksgiving. They arrived in excellent condition. Building the sukkah was totally our responsibility. Help at our headquarters in Nha Trang came from a most unusual place.

Our office manager was Sgt. Gunther Haase, a career soldier with a surprising and unexpected history. Born in Germany, he was drafted as a young man into the German Luftwaffe, its Air Force, where he was trained as a pilot. He served during World War II. His plane was shot down by the Allies, and he was captured and imprisoned in a prisoner of war camp. Impressed by the humane treatment he received in captivity, he immigrated after the war to the United States and enlisted in the US Army. In 1970, I imagine that he was in his early to middle fifties. I soon discovered that he was also a master carpenter. When it was time to build our sukkah, he was ready to volunteer. In fact, he was more than ready. He was eager. He quickly took charge, designed the structure, ordered the materials, and set to work. He directed the project ably, enlisting all the chaplains’ assistants to help.

This opportunity to offer help especially for the Jewish program was characteristic of Sgt. Haase. I never learned the full story of his journey, but I intuited that he wanted to demonstrate how much he cared for the welfare of our program. In all our many interactions, I never sensed anything but concern and generosity on his part.

I knew then that I would never sit in a sukkah which took form in quite that fashion ever again, designed by a veteran of Germany’s armed forces, and built by him along with Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish assistants. Everyone took pride in helping one another. It was one memorable example of interfaith partnership I would witness many times during my tour.

The schach, covering atop the sukkah, was taken from coconut palm trees which grew in abundance in the area. We decorated with fresh tropical fruits and foliage. We were ready to eat our meals and to invite guests to join us in our sukkah.

The design created by Sgt. Haase was easily replicable, and we shared it with all our lay leaders. By the time the holiday arrived, there were four beautiful sukkot constructed at major bases, in Pleiku, Qui Nhon, and Cam Ranh Bay in addition to Nha Trang. Building was not without its challenges. In Pleiku, Charlie Marcus and Chuck Miller scavenging schach in nearby fields came under mortar fire! They emerged unscathed carrying the palm fronds they had found. They were blessed with the fulfillment of the rabbinic dictum: “When one is involved in doing a mitzvah, one cannot be harmed.” Sgt Haase’s plans were so useful that they guided the sukkah built in my first position as a synagogue rabbi in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. I’m not certain that my congregation ever knew that its sukkah was designed by a man who was formerly a German prisoner of war!

On the eve of Sukkot, I was elated at what we had managed to build. I wrote: Our sukkah is gorgeous. You would never believe it possible. It is lush with all kinds of fruit. Tonight, after services, we’ll eat there and sing and pretend we are not here and try to imagine we’re with those we love.