Chaplains of the
36th Infantry Division
Chaplain (Colonel) Herbert E. MacCombie
In December I was taken to the
hospital. After six weeks I was evacuated to Africa. I was told that I
would be marked “unfit for combat duty” and probably be returned to the
States. For this reason I was not with the division during the action at
However, General Wilbur came to
see me in the hospital. He told me what had happened and stated that he
had never seen greater heroism than that displayed by the men of the 36th
Division. He was a Congressional Medal of Honor man; the only one that I
really knew personally. I thought he was a good judge of bravery. His
comments convinced me that the Texans had done the best that could be done
under the conditions. If there was a mistake made at the Rapido, it was
not the fault of the 36th Division.
While I was in the hospital
General Ryder of the 34th Division was in the same ward. He told me a
very interesting story of the fighting in Tunisia. He had a chaplain who
liked to use his camera. When the Germans began to surrender in great
numbers, General Ryder invited the Chaplain to go with him to the P.O.W.
cage and take some pictures.
While the chaplain was there,
he was approached by a German officer who began to complain about the way
the Americans were handling the situation. The Germans did it so much
better. Conditions were terrible. It was all very unmilitary. The
chaplain listened until he grew tired.
Then he said, “You Germans
probably would do it better. You planned for a war. We did not.
Secondly, we never expected you Germans to surrender in such great
numbers. Thirdly, I came over here to bury you Germans, not to talk to
you. Good day.”
Some men become very conscious
of their rank. Our ward held about thirty men. One was full colonel. He
did not like the radio and would get up and turn it off, much to the
chagrin of the other men. I reminded him that among patients there was no
rank. Only the staff personnel could exercise the privilege of rank.
He said, “I’ll hold on to
I got up and turned the radio
back on with much applause from the other patients. There was a row, but
the doctors backed me up. The radio stayed on.
When I was recovered enough to
be released, I left the hospital with my legs still in bandages. The men
in the ward prepared some interesting “Going Away” signs and wished me
Not many high-ranking officers
had requested return to their units. I was sent to a Replacement Depot,
where they told me that usually one could expect a long stay there. I
kept pestering the adjutant without success. Finally I heard that a ship
was sailing to Italy with some replacements. I told him I wanted to go.
He said that there was a small detachment of casual officers going, and if
I would accept the responsibility, he could send me along as commanding
officer of the casual detachment. I agreed to accept the assignment.
He looked at my T-Patch and
said, “You won’t like it.”
I said, “I’ll take a chance.”
When we got on board, I found
that all the rest of the soldiers were black. The ship’s captain would
not allow anyone in the mess hall except at meal times. The ship was very
crowded and there was no place to sit, except in the mess hall. He didn’t
like soldiers and he especially disliked black soldiers. However, on
Sunday we had a fine church service. The men could really sing. Finally
we reached Italy and my sergeant came and got me in our jeep.
Speaking of being rank
conscious I remember when we received our first issue of liquor. There
were twelve bottles of whiskey to be shared by about 600 men. It was
decided to distribute the liquor in order of rank. At once there was much
checking of records. As senior lieutenant colonel on the division staff I
was number 4 – two generals and one colonel outranked me. After the issue
had been completed, number 13 came to me.
He asked, “Did you take your
I said, “Yes”.
He said, “I didn’t think you
would take it. I thought some one was cheating me. What did you take it
for? You don’t drink.”
I replied, “I figured that with
such a small supply no enlisted man would even get a smell. I sent my
bottle down to the Clearing Station. As long as it lasts each man who
comes in without a belly wound will get a slug of whiskey to cheer him
Chaplain Roemer made the
distribution for me.
PREVIOUS | CONTENTS
| NEXT ]
by Mary MacCombie Fietsam
Printed by Permission