Chaplains of the
36th Infantry Division


Chaplain (Colonel) Herbert E. MacCombie
Division Chaplain

The Moroccan Chess Match

One of my exotic experiences was the famous chess match we held in Morocco.  General Walker had met some of the Arab leaders.  They asked if some of the Americans played chess.  Most of our Division staff did.  As I remember it all of our G Staff played chess, as did General Walker.  They asked to have our champion meet their champion. They used the term in the medieval sense of representative.  General Walker asked me to be the division “champion”.

I thought that if the officers had a “champion”, the enlisted men should have one, too.  He asked me to recommend an enlisted man.  I recommended Corporal Charles G. Schwartz, Jr., of the chaplain’s section.  He and I had played together many times. We were evenly matched.  General Walker agreed.  We [were] sent to Rabat. There were two generals, one colonel, about a dozen lieutenant colonels, one lieutenant (General Walker’s aide), and one corporal.

The match was staged in a wonderful garden.  There were banana trees, fig trees and many beautiful plants.  A special tent was erected for the occasion.  It was an Arab tent, conical in shape.  About thirty feet across and twenty feet high.  The inside of the tent was all wonderful tapestry work.  I was invited to play either American style (sitting on chairs) or Arab style (sitting on cushions).  With due courtesy I elected to play Arab style.

The Arabs were real sportsmen and when I defeated their champion, they congratulated me warmly.  Altogether I played about ten matches.  I lost one, drew one, and won all the rest.  One of my opponents was a cousin of the Sultan.  After the matches the Sheik said to me, “If you Americans fight as well as you play chess, you will certainly defeat the Germans.”  He was a prophet.

On one occasion after I had made my move, I studied the board and saw that I had missed an opportunity to straddle my opponent’s king and queen with my knight.  I looked up and saw that some of the watchers had also seen the possible move.  I was sure that some one would give notice of the danger by a word, a sign, or at least a groan.  No one moved an eyelash.  The tension was great.  My opponent failed to see his danger and made another move.  I immediately took advantage of the opening.  You could almost hear the peaking of the tension.  In all my chess playing I have never known another group of watchers to behave so properly.

While we were playing the General and some of the staff officers visited the home of the Sheik.  He said the ceiling was inlaid with gold, and everything was done in true Hollywood style.  The Arab houses did not look like much outside, but inside they were gorgeous.


Copyright 2001 by Mary MacCombie Fietsam
Printed by Permission

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