"Hi, Mom. Got my orders today," David Zuk said. "I'm going to Saudi. I
have to leave first thing tomorrow morning.
"Oh, no," his mother said, her "no" echoing in her 20-year old son's head.
"I was assigned to the 101st," David said with a sinking voice, as he slumped
against the glass wall of the phone booth. "I almost cried when they told me."
The 101st Airborne Division, nicknamed the "Screaming Eagles," fought on the
front lines during all the wars: World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and
Viet Nam. Only a fraction of the early ranks had ever returned alive.
David's mother tried to find encouraging words for her only son, but it was
hard. She had never been able to get used to her son's unpredictable life
choices. When he was 16, he had become involved with Orthodox Jews and made
himself separate from the family by eating only kosher. Two years later when he
joined the Army, she just about gave up. Now, upon hearing this ominous news,
all she could think was, "I told you so."
The Gulf War had broken out a month earlier, on January 17, 1991. David knew
he would be on the front lines, facing the open jaws of the ravenous war. "They
said we'll be there at least a year," David said, not knowing when he
would see her next. "Take care, Mom. I love you," he added faintly,
David closed the door of the phone booth and ambled back to his barrack.
Gazing at the snow-covered hills surrounding Fort Knox Army Base in northwestern
Kentucky, he was awe-struck by their quiet beauty, as if seeing them for the
first time. He wondered if he would ever see them again. He thought of the
preposterous story circulating around the army base that someone had predicted
the war would end by Purim, the Jewish holiday instituted to thank and praise
G‑d for saving the Jewish people from a decree of annihilation some 2,300 years
"Purim's only a month away. No way it will be over by then!" David said to
Saddam Hussein, thought David, certainly fits the character of Haman, the
villain of the story of Purim. The wicked Haman got the king of Persia to issue
a royal decree to command the populace to massacre all the Jews in the Persian
Empire. Similarly, for a whole year Saddam Hussein had been boasting that he
would "burn half of Israel" with SCUD missiles laden with deadly chemical gas.
Those missiles would surely maim and kill thousands of Israelis and prove to the
Arab nations that Israel was vulnerable. Then the world would clearly see that
G‑d had forsaken the Jews as the "Chosen People," and that instead Saddam
Hussein had been chosen to rule the world. The scenario sounded preposterous...
until Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.
Back at the barracks, David stood beside his cot and daavened (prayed)
the evening prayer. How ironic that he was being shipped to war to defend Kuwait
and Saudi Arabia. Before falling asleep, he vividly recalled news clips of
the SCUD missiles fired at cities in Israel. These 40-foot Soviet-made missiles
had been enhanced with a 600-pound, European-made payload of explosives.
Designed to flatten buildings, the explosion of a SCUD warhead creates a frontal
pressure wave that blasts away concrete and sends shattered glass flying up to
1,400 feet away in all directions, creating a torrent of lethal "knives."
As David lay in his bed, he continued to recall the news he had heard and
read from Israel. The first night that SCUDS were fired at Israel, one of them
made a direct hit on an apartment house in a crowded Tel Aviv neighborhood. As a
result of this midnight strike, 400 apartments housing 1,200 people were either
destroyed or damaged. Tel Aviv hospitals were prepared to handle mass
casualties, as had been the experience in Teheran, Iran, when Iraq fired SCUDS
into Teheran's neighborhoods in 1988 during the Iran-Iraq War.
The ambulances arrived at a Tel Aviv hospital. One young man had some
scratches from broken glass; a woman had a sprain; the injuries were all minor. "The
'victims' could have doctored themselves," said one of the hospital staff. "Even
the non-religious declared it a miracle."
During the first week of war, Iraq fired about two dozen SCUDS at Israel and
damaged or destroyed thousands of apartments and other buildings. On the first
Saturday of the attacks, one SCUD scored a direct hit on a bomb shelter, which
was used as a makeshift synagogue on Saturday morning; two hundred worshippers
were packed inside. The blast flung the people around like rag dolls. Only the
shelter's eastern wall, upon which the ark housing the Torah scroll leaned
against, remained standing. When Prime Minister Yitzchak Shamir visited the site
he asked if there were any people in the bomb shelter. "Yes," replied Tel Aviv
Mayor Shlomo Lahat, "Two hundred. They were saved by a miracle." No one was
How long would their mazal (good fortune) last? To protect Israel,
David was ready to risk his life. With that thought, David whispered the Shema
Yisrael ("Hear O' Israel") prayer and fell asleep.
The next morning David and more than 300 other soldiers boarded a chartered
747 headed towards Saudi Arabia. They refueled in Rome at midnight and took off
after two hours. Within minutes, David drifted into a deep sleep. In what seemed
like minutes later but in reality turned out to be six hours, a blinding light
flooded the cabin of the jet. David peered through the thick window next to his
seat. "So this is Saudi," he mused. A harsh sun reflected off the whitest sand
he had ever seen. Miles and miles of sand. For the next hour and a half, all
David saw below was white sand, with an occasional darkened area which appeared
to be some sort of man-made rock formation.
The 747 jet landed in the coastal city of Dhahran. David stepped down from
the plane into the 115 degree heat. He felt like he had marched into a huge
solar oven. The soldiers were transported across the burning sand to a
stadium-size tent. They were directed to their cots and told to go to sleep.
At 5:30 the next morning, nerve-shattering alarms blasted the dawn. In a
heartbeat, David reached for his gas mask, took the required quick breath, and
strapped the mask to his face. The maximum time limit for this procedure was 15
seconds; David did it in 3 seconds flat. Thousands of gas mask rehearsals had
finally paid off. Like a machine gun firing into the dark, David's heart pounded
uncontrollably at an invisible enemy. Three minutes later, an officer came into
the tent and announced, "The Iraqis fired a SCUD, and our Patriot missile
intercepted it. No gas has been detected. Keep your masks on until the signal is
No gas was detected and no one was injured, but Saddam won a round on the
psychological battlefield. Besides the constant fear of chemical weapons,
Hussein had another silent ally: the desert. The first troops sent in August had
all become sick with heat strokes. Even in the "winter," the midday temperature
always rose above 110 degrees Fahrenheit. The desert proved to be a harsh,
foreign environment. Water had to be rationed. Showers were allowed only once a
Every day, just before sunset, the hot, white sun would turn bright red, and
at sunset, it would appear to melt into the sand -- an orangish red lava flowing
off a huge ball of fire across the white sand. Then, within minutes, the
temperature would drop 50 degrees. Everyone would have to wear thermal gloves
and a warm jacket to keep from shivering. The temperature would be only 60 to 70
degrees, yet because of the rapid and drastic change in temperature, the
soldiers would feel as if they were freezing.
Hussein was proving himself to be more cunning and his soldiers more
entrenched than originally thought. Dave heard reports that Hussein could drag
out the war for years.
Saddam Hussein kept firing SCUDS into Israel. Civilian targets were hit,
buildings were destroyed, but the human injuries were surprisingly light. Back
in the States, many Americans were concluding that the SCUDS were basically
harmless, giant firecrackers.
Then, on the morning of February 25, David and 100 other soldiers received
orders to fly that evening to Al-Khobar. They would be staying in the nearby
Army barrack, which had originally been a large, steel-framed warehouse. Later
that evening, during suppertime, a fragment of a SCUD blasted through the
barrack's metal roof, followed by a gigantic explosion which was heard for miles
around. Nothing was left of the barrack, except an eight-foot deep crater.
Twenty-eight soldiers were killed in the ensuing explosion; 89 others, wounded.
"I'm supposed to be dead," David said to himself. At the last moment, the
plane scheduled to transport David and 100 fellow soldiers to Al-Khobar the
previous evening had malfunctioned. The "malfunction" saved their
Before that attack, the American soldiers felt no anger towards the Iraqis,
but now they were enraged. They wanted Saddam Hussein dead. Hussein became their
Haman, the very embodiment of evil. They felt like the Jews who stamp their feet
when the name of Haman is mentioned during the public reading of the Scroll
of Esther on the Purim holiday: they wanted him stamped out, once and for
The Gulf War intensified and the Allied forces became more aggressive,
sending countless air-raids into Iraq. The Army transferred David to the front
lines, 50 miles from the village of Ur Kasdim, where the Jewish patriarch
Abraham had refused to bow down to the idols of King Nimrod. The pagan king
subsequently threw young Abraham into a fiery furnace, yet miraculously he
was not burned.
On the quiet nights, when sorties were not taking off from the Army's
makeshift runway, David often gazed at the stars. There were no lights for
hundreds of miles and David could see thousands of stars in the Milky Way. Here
G‑d's blessing and promise to Abraham, "I will increase your seed as the stars
of the heaven" (Genesis 22:17), had great meaning.
By now Saddam's army had fired more than 30 SCUDS which struck Israel. If
only he could drag Israel into the war, then the other Arab nations would unite
with him, and he would rule the oil-rich Middle East and the world would be at
Suddenly, then the long-awaited land war was underway. The Allies marched
into Kuwait and invaded Iraq. Then, on February 27, after a mere 100 hours of
Allied fighting, the BBC announced that the Persian Gulf War was over. Not for a
moment did any of the soldiers believe it. Two weeks later, on March 11, 1991, Newsweek
published a cover story on the war and called the Persian Gulf War "a triumph of
almost Biblical proportions." Only after returning to the United States, did
David find out that the War had actually ended on Purim.
With David, every single soldier in the 101st Airborne Division
returned home, alive! Like in the days following the miracle of
Purim, joyous celebrations and prayers of thanksgiving were held in towns
throughout America, and "the days of darkness were tranformed to light, joy and
Thirteen months after the Gulf War ended, while stationed at Fort Campbell,
David spent Shabbat at the home of Rabbi Zalman Posner in Nashville, Tennessee. "Have
you seen this booklet?" his host asked. David glanced at it, and saw it was
entitled, "I Will Show You Wonders: Public Statements of the Lubavitcher
Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, Before and During the Gulf Crisis."
David had never before heard of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. On that Shabbat, he
learned about the Rebbe's predictions regarding the Gulf War, how the Rebbe
publicly proclaimed that the Land of Israel would be safe and that nobody in
Israel would need gas masks, and that it was said in the Rebbe's name that the
Gulf War would end by Purim.
Following the Gulf War, David completed a two-year stint in the Army and then
joined the ranks of young men studying Torah in the Yeshiva Tiferet Bachurim
at the Rabbinical College of America, in Morristown, New Jersey.
Sources: Private First-Class David Zuk; "Missiles and Miracles: The SCUD
Story" David Rothschild (Nefesh Magazine, 1992); "Why Were SCUD Casualties So
Low?" S. Fetter, G. Lewis & L. Gronlund (Nature, Jan. 1993).