Chaplains of the
36th Infantry Division


Chaplain (Colonel) Herbert E. MacCombie
Division Chaplain

Religious Census of the 36th

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 division.

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.


Copyright 2001 by Mary MacCombie Fietsam
Printed by Permission

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