By CH (COL) Sandy Dresin, USA Ret.
I spent the year of 1969-1970 serving the troops in Vietnam. Prior to Purim, I had my Jewish Chaplain Assistant go to the USO in Saigon where he could bake a batch of hamentashen. That might sound simple enough, but while baking those hamentashen, my dedicated assistant had to endure the overpowering if not nauseating smell of a dish called Nuoc Mam, the favorite food of the Vietnamese for lunch. His survival of the experience sans hazmat suit may be yet another Purim miracle.
But his baking duties had prevented him from assisting me at a religious retreat for the troops of our aviation battalion that was taking place at the same time. He therefore not only spent time amid the noxious fumes of the Nuoc Mam, but also missed out on an Army Commendation Medal awarded to all of the retreat faculty by the Commander of the Battalion. When the list of faculty eligible for the award was submitted, I saw to it that my assistant’s name was included. For the record, he may be the only Jewish soldier awarded a medal for baking hamentashen.
Whether or not it had to do with the conditions under which they were prepared, I do not know, but the hamentashen ended up with the rocklike consistency of hand grenades. When they were distributed after Megillah reading, there appeared to be more left over than we had started with. On the return flight to our base, with the doors of our helicopter open, we took turns chucking the unwanted “grenades” into the jungle.
In Sinai there was Manna from heaven, but in Vietnam there were hamentashen from heaven. Perhaps the enemy saw it as a new American secret weapon.
Article originally published in the Purim 5782 issue of the Jewish-American Warrior.