Chaplains of the
36th Infantry Division
Chaplain (Colonel) Herbert E. MacCombie
Religious Census of the
In November 1942 it was decided that
we should hold a religious census. This was important at that time,
because we were expecting to go overseas shortly and we needed to have the
proper religious preference indicated on the identification tags of each
man. Our unit commanders gave us excellent support.
I remember one soldier who came to
me with a problem. He asked, “Do I have to be a Protestant?” I assured
him he did not and asked the reason for such a question. He said, “My
first sergeant says I have to have a religious preference, and since I am
not a Catholic or a Jew, I must be a Protestant.” I told his first
sergeant that he should enter “N” on the identification tag, since the man
obviously was not a Protestant.
When we completed the census we
found that the Division included 68 different faiths. Of these the
Baptists were most numerous with the Roman Catholics a close second.
There were 318 Jews. 446 men declared that they had no religious
preference. The 36th Reconnaissance Troop and the 111th Engineers did not
have any man with “no religious preference”.
I tried to get a Jewish chaplain,
and although the number of Jews in the division did not meet the standards
of the Chief of Chaplains, I succeeded for awhile. Our Jewish chaplain
was assigned to the 143rd Infantry under Colonel Martin, because with 124
men they had the largest concentration of Jews in the division. However,
the plan did not work out. The chaplain did not like the Infantry and
secured a transfer to the Air Force. I was never again able to secure the
services of a Jewish chaplain, though we often had a Jewish chaplain
assigned for the High Holy Days.
With such a wide distribution of
different faiths it was evident that the chaplains would have to take
responsibility for men not of their own church. We would have to develop
a co-operative spirit.
I had one chaplain who was having
difficulty learning this lesson. As a matter of fact one unit commander
and one other chaplain suggested that I get rid of him. I talked with
him. I told him that we had 15,000 men and that we were responsible for
their welfare in matters of religion, morals and morale. I said, “We are
all doing God’s work”. He replied, “That is true, we are all doing God’s
work. You in your way and I in HIS”.
I am glad to say that he did learn
to co-operate and became one of the most successful chaplains in the
This spirit of co-operation among
the chaplains was a mark of the Division. I remember that when I was
evacuated to the hospital in December of 1943 Chaplain Roemer and Chaplain
Fenton (Roman Catholics) each dedicated a mass to the recovery of my
health. This was particularly gracious of Chaplain Roemer, because if I
did not return, he was eligible for promotion to Division Chaplain with
the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
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by Mary MacCombie Fietsam
Printed by Permission