Chaplains of the
36th Infantry Division
Chaplain (Colonel) Herbert E. MacCombie
C Rations, Birthday Cake And G.I. Soap
While we were
working in the cemetery at Vannulo, we saw a cloud of mist sweeping
towards us. Immediately the cry “GAS!” went up. There was much
confusion. Fortunately Master Sergeant Downing O. Smith of the Chemical
Warfare Section was working with us. He immediately got out his kit and
made proper tests. It was not gas. It was simply Italian fog mixed with
the smoke of battle. What a relief!
assistant, Corporal Charles Schwartz was wounded and evacuated to Africa,
I was very short of help. Sergeant Sweigert was in charge of our Rear
Echelon and did not arrive until D + 10. The officers of the 47th W.M.
Co., (Graves Registration) did not arrive until D plus 14. There were
enlisted men of the G.R. present, but they were short of clerical help.
In the emergency
Master Sergeant Smith came to my assistance. In addition to his assigned
duties with the C.W.S. and the liaison section he volunteered to help me.
For eight days he carried on his work in an efficient and cheerful
manner. Later on I was glad to join Major Claude J. Merrill in
recommending him for a Bronze Star Medal which he received.
My birthday is
September 17th. On that day we were very busy in the Vannulo Cemetery.
Some of the men working with me came and told me they were lighting a fire
to heat their rations. They said, “Give us your rations and we will heat
them for you.”
C Rations were
always more appetizing when warm. I gave them my can. Presently they
called out; “Dinner is served”.
I took my mess
kit and went to where they were. There I found not only heated rations,
but also a cake with chocolate frosting and a large candle. It was my
I don’t know how
they succeeded in producing a birthday cake in such circumstances. Where
did they get the ingredients? Where were they able to bake it?
tell me, and I had learned not to ask too many questions. It still
remains as one of the most memorable birthdays of my life. To make such
an effort in such conditions, I thought maybe they had accepted me as a
TEXAN: In heart, if not by birth.
After we closed
the cemetery at Vannulo, we opened a new one near a bend in the road at
Alta Villa. It was a flat piece of farmland. Nearby was a farmhouse that
sheltered about thirty members of the family. They had been caught for
many days between the lines of the Germans and the Americans.
hungry. I had accumulated several cans of Vegetable Hash (my men found
them the least appetizing of the three types of C Rations). I gave them
several cans of the Vegetable Hash. They were delighted.
Then they saw my
Chaplain’s Cross and exclaimed, “Il Prete! Il Prete!”
I answered “Si”.
I did not know
their word for Protestant, so I let it go at that. They saw my ring.
Evidently they thought a man so rich must be a bishop. They all lined up
from the old grandmother to the youngest child (about thirty in all), and
came by and kissed my wedding ring.
offered to wash my clothes. I decided that if THEY thought I was dirty, I
had better get cleaned up.
They had no
soap. I got a piece of GI soap and brought some clothes to them. I
included my altar cloths, which were embroidered with a small cross. When
I came for my laundry, everything was beautifully washed and ironed. My
altar cloths had never before been so beautifully done, not even by the
I offered to pay
them, but they refused money. They asked, if they could have the
remainder of the bar of soap. Of course I let them have it. When I
passed by a few days later every bush was decorated with drying clothes.
Apparently they made good use of the soap.
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by Mary MacCombie Fietsam
Printed by Permission