Chaplains of the
36th Infantry Division


Chaplain (Colonel) Herbert E. MacCombie
Division Chaplain

Utilization Of Unit Chaplains

According to the Tables of Organization several of our units were not entitled to a chaplain.  Chaplains were assigned on an average basis of one for every 1200 men.  We tried to serve these troops from division headquarters or by adjacent chaplains.  When we were over strength in chaplains I would send them a chaplain for a short time.  When we had a casualty among the infantry chaplains, I would have to take the chaplain away from the special troops.  It was our policy to give first consideration to the infantry battalions where the largest number of troops was concentrated.

One of these special troop units was the 111th Engineers.  The commanding officer at that time was Major Oran C. Stovall.  When his chaplain had to be transferred, he wrote a letter in which he said, “We are out of a chaplain again since Alspaugh left us.  I told the General today that I would swap an engineer officer for a chaplain.  We find that a good one is the best investment we can make.  If I had my choice between Mehl (Chaplain Lambert J. Mehl) and an executive officer, I would take Mehl.”

Most of our unit commanders from the regimental units down to battalions and companies and batteries were like Colonel Price and Colonel Stovall.  Occasionally there were unit commanders who did not understand Army Regulations concerning the work of the chaplains in the armed forces.

While we were in the states one of our chaplains reported to me that in one company of his battalion orders had been given that no man was to visit the chaplain.  If he did, the sergeants would take him behind the barracks and teach him a lesson.  They thought that contact with the chaplain was a sissy affair.  I told the chaplain to let me handle it.

I went down to the company and talked with the captain.  I told him about the rumors that had come to me.  He replied, “You know how rumors are.  It is a small matter.”

I told him, “Army Regulations provide that men may have access to chaplains at all times during off duty hours.  In case of emergency the first sergeant will allow them to see the chaplain in duty hours.  To meet these needs we have chaplains on duty in the division twenty-four hours a day.  I think that you should arrange a company formation, and let me as Division Chaplain explain to the men their rights.”

He said, “I don’t think that is necessary.”

I told him, “You have just two choices.  Either you let me speak to ALL of your men, or I will have the Division Inspector General come down here to investigate these “rumors”.  I talked to the company.  I had no further reports of lack of co-operation from that unit.

While we were overseas the artillery commander had a “bright idea”.  He asked his chaplain to serve as Mess Officer.  The chaplain agreed to do so, but suggested that he take up the matter with me.

When he came to me, I said to him, “I am glad that you and the chaplain get along so well that you want him to serve as your Mess Officer, and he is willing to do so.  Of course you know that this would be against Army Regulations.  They provide that no chaplain can be assigned to secular duties except as Grave Registrations Officer.  General Walker has issued instructions that no chaplain is to be appointed Graves Registration officer.  Regulations provide that when a chaplain is assigned secular duties, he must report that fact to the Chief of Chaplains in his monthly report.  In such a case there will be a demand from higher headquarters as to why you have failed to comply with regulations.  Of course you and the chaplain could undertake this assignment and NOT report it on the monthly report.  In such a case the chaplain would be filing a false return, and since you have to endorse his report, you also would be filing a false return.  You know that is a court-martial offense.”

The general said to me, “You are a hard man, chaplain”.

I replied, “No I am not a hard man.  I am trying to keep you from making a mistake, and as his staff officer, I must make sure that General Walker is not subject to criticism from higher headquarters.”  The chaplain did not serve as Mess Officer.

General Walker had issued orders that no chaplain should be assigned as Graves Registration Officer.  They would give all assistance possible in the burial of the dead, but they would not be given official responsibility.  We had an attached unit whose commanding officer did assign the chaplain as Graves Registrations officer.  When the monthly report came through it indicated that the chaplain had been assigned as Graves Registration Officer.

I called it to the attention of Colonel Ives, our G1.  At once the report was returned to the unit with a notation, “Reply by endorsement hereon, the reason for your failure to comply with the division policy”.

The commanding officer came to me and asked, “Why did you put me on the spot?”

I told him, “I didn’t put you on the spot.  I sent word to you that this was against division policy.  You decided to ignore my warning and chose to establish your own policy.  If you do not wish to conform to the policy of the Division Commander in the use of chaplains that was your fault, not mine.”


Copyright 2001 by Mary MacCombie Fietsam
Printed by Permission

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