Chaplains of the
36th Infantry Division
Chaplain (Colonel) Herbert E. MacCombie
MG Walker's Command Support
The support, which a chaplain received from
his commanding officer, was always of prime importance in the
effectiveness of his service. Fortunately for me, I had the privilege of
serving under General Fred L. Walker. He was one of the most
understanding and considerate men I have ever known.
General Patton came to address the officers
of the division. He made one of his typical speeches, full of bombast and
profanity. After the formation I walked across the parade ground with
General Walker. Very quietly he said to me, “We are not all like that
chaplain.” He wasn’t.
In all the years I was associated with him I
never heard him make an uncouth remark. Only once did I see him angry,
and that time he was justified.
Whenever a problem was referred to me, I
tried to give it careful thought and submit my recommendations in
writing. Every recommendation I ever made was approved.
While we were in North Africa many units
opened houses of prostitution. The French had them. Some of our officers
believed that “When you are in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
The Theater Chaplain, Chaplain Parker, came
to me and told me that he had tried to close these houses. He had no
success. He asked me to see what I could do. The VI Corps chaplain,
Chaplain Schleede, came to me to ask me to try and do something. Many of
our chaplains were worried about conditions. I studied the problem and
submitted a recommendation to General Walker that the houses be closed.
He considered the problem and discussed the
matter with other staff personnel. He visited the places where these
houses operated. Then he told me that the medical officers believed that,
if the houses were closed, there would be a marked increase in venereal
disease. If this happened, he would have to permit them to be open.
However, he did close the house in our area, and through his influence all
such places in the VI Corps area were discontinued.
When we were stationed at Pozzuoli (known in
the Bible as Puteoli where Paul began his overland trip to Rome), General
Walker asked me whether I had ever been to Pompeii. I told him, “No”. He
said, “Every educated man should see Pompeii. Take my sedan and go
there.” I went to Pompeii accompanied by Chaplain Roemer, Fenton and
Lehne. We enjoyed the trip very much. Two days later, General Walker
invited me to go with him to Pompeii and show him what I thought was
interesting. I had a very pleasurable trip.
On several other occasions General Walker
sent me to visit places of interest, and later to accompany him to these
same places. I remember, particularly, Rome and Porto San Stefano.
After the fall of Rome, General Walker
informed me that he wanted every chaplain to spend a week in Rome at the
division hotel. Later, because of a change of orders for the division this
had to be cut to three and a half days in Rome for each Chaplain.
However, because of the importance of Rome to our Catholic chaplains,
special arrangements were made for each of them to enjoy a week in the
Eternal City. I think every chaplain thoroughly enjoyed this
opportunity. I know I did.
I learned while in Rome that some officers
were being given an opportunity to visit the Holy Land. I talked with
General Walker about the possibility of our chaplains going. He was
enthusiastic and gave his approval. Each chaplain was to have ten days
temporary duty in the Holy Land.
I was warned that a possible change in
division orders might change our plans. We decided to send five chaplains
at a time. By doubling up other chaplains could cover all our religious
services. I decided that because of the tentative nature of our plans the
chaplains would draw lots to see who would go first. I was not in the
I submitted my recommendations to the Chief
of Staff. When he looked over the list, he asked, “Where is your name?”
I told him that the names had been chosen by lot. He said, “That is not
the military way to decide such a question. Assignments should be made by
seniority. Besides General Walker gave his approval, because he wants you
to go. There may not be a chance for a second group.”
I explained my thinking on the matter and
pointed out that any change of plans would be embarrassing for me. The
other chaplains would think that I was pulling rank. That would be bad
for morale and would endanger the esprit de corps which we had tried so
hard to establish. He approved the plan. Fortunately for me all of our
chaplains were able to make the trip. The last chaplain returned just in
time to board the transport for France.
When we received word that General Walker had
been relieved of command all of us were disturbed. The chaplains decided
to give to him a token of our regard. Since we were near Rome and General
Walker had been received in private audience by Pope Pius XII, we decided
to present him with a scroll containing a papal blessing.
Each chaplain of the division signed the
scroll. We called a meeting of all chaplains with General Walker present.
We gave him the scroll as a witness of our appreciation of his leadership
and our best wishes and prayers for his future success. Later on the
general sent me a note of appreciation, which I shared with the other
The presence of a commanding officer was
always an inspiration to his chaplain and to the men present at the
service. However, it was wartime and commanders were busy directing and
planning combat. They could not always come to church service.
On one occasion General Walker asked me at
breakfast when and where church service was to be held. I told him. He
said, “I plan to be there, but do not hold up the beginning of the service
for me.” He did not come.
At the conclusion of the service General
Wilbur came to me and said, “General Walker was held up by an unexpected
visit by the Army Commander. I am here representing him”. General Walker
was like that.
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by Mary MacCombie Fietsam
Printed by Permission