Chaplains of the
36th Infantry Division


Chaplain (Colonel) Herbert E. MacCombie
Division Chaplain

Train Crossings, A Court Martial And Eggs

When we were first in North Africa the trains moved very slowly.  We rode from Oran to Magenta in old boxcars like the famous 40 hommes et 8 chevaux of World War I vintage.  Later when we would come to a railroad crossing and the crossing attendant waved his flag, we paid no attention to him because we knew we would be across the tracks long before the train would arrive.  One day as I came to a crossing the attendant rushed out in front of my jeep waving his arms and shouting, “Pas Africain, Americain”.  Just then the train whizzed by. American locomotives had arrived in Africa.  After that we were more cautious in approaching railroad crossings.

One day one of our enlisted men went AWOL.  The military police went searching for him.  They saw no one except natives.  Then one of the natives came up and pointed to a figure in the distance.  He was dressed in a bed sack.  He wore a towel around his head.  At a distance he looked like an Arab.  The natives insisted that he was an American.  The M.P.’s picked him up and he was scheduled for a court-martial.

We visited him in the stockade.  He told us that he had been reading the literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses.  He decided that God wanted him to be a missionary to the Arabs.  We asked if he spoke Arabic or French.  He did not, but he was sure God would give him the right words to speak when the occasion arose.  He showed us the literature he had been reading.  When the court-martial was held, Chaplain Mehl was qualified as an expert witness in the field of religion.  His presentation was so convincing the man was found “not guilty”.  Afterwards he became a good soldier.

While we were driving from Magenta to Rabat, we passed many beautiful farmhouses.  I thought my French was pretty good, so I stopped several times and asked for “des Oeufs”.  I never got any.  Finally, my driver, who was from Brooklyn, said, “Let me try.”  I told him, “You can’t even speak good English, how do you expect to communicate?” Since I was getting nowhere, I decided to let him try.  We stopped at the next farmhouse.  He came out with his helmet filled with eggs.  I was amazed.  “How did you do it?”  “I just waved my arms and said ‘Cock-a-doodle-do’”.  He didn’t have even the right sex, but he was successful.  Many times success in combat and life is like that.


Copyright 2001 by Mary MacCombie Fietsam
Printed by Permission

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