Chaplains of the
36th Infantry Division
Chaplain (Colonel) Herbert E. MacCombie
On Salerno Beachhead With General Walker
On the evening
September 8, 1943 we were aboard a transport heading for Italy. About
1830 we received word over the radio that Italy had surrendered. The
announcement included word that American forces would land the next day.
There was much discussion about the message. Many men thought we would
change our plans and sail into the harbor at Naples and go ashore with the
band playing and banners waving. Others who had studied tactics were
disturbed by the announcement. To them it meant that we had lost the
element of surprise in our attack. Surprise is often the means of
achieving success in an attack. If the Italians army did not obey the
orders to surrender, or if the Germans were present in large numbers, they
would be waiting for us. We would have an active reception. We did.
In the early
hours of September 9th, I landed with the Commanding General’s party.
While we were going ashore it seemed like a gigantic Fourth of July
celebration. I had to stand on tiptoe to see over the gunwale. Suddenly
some bullets began to strike our boat. A sergeant standing near me said
in surprise, “My God, Chaplain, they’re shooting at us.” He was right.
They were. I no longer stood on tiptoe.
As we were going
forward after landing, we came to some men crouched behind a wall.
asked, “What is going on here?”
“The Germans are
firing at us with machine guns.”
“When was the
“They must be
gone by now. Let’s go”.
He walked ahead
as nonchalantly as though on a tramp across the fields. We all followed
him. If he could take a chance, so could we. Fortunately there was no
firing from the enemy.
As we went on,
the general suddenly stopped. I had seen nothing. He ordered one of the
men to fire some ricochet shots into a culvert.
“There is someone
in that culvert”, he said.
Out came a lot of
frightened Italians – men, women, and children. They were told to go
home. We went on. As we approached a stone building, the general hurried
over to the wall of the building and called to us, “Come here!” Most of
us went at once. A few lingered. He repeated the order, “Come here at
once. All but one officer obeyed. Just then a shell burst where we had
been standing. A shell fragment struck the hesitant officer. The rest of
us were safe. It was comforting to be accompanying a man who knew by
instinct what was likely to happen.
Later in the
morning some German tanks approached. I was in an open field near the one
artillery piece we had in that area. As the tanks came on I lay flat.
Suddenly our artillery opened fire. The first shell was a direct hit.
The tank burst into flames. Men came tumbling out with flesh hanging in
strips from their arms and legs. I was sorry for them but glad for my own
safety. The gun kept firing. Later on some of the prisoners asked where
our “rapid fire gun” had come from.
reminded me of the Louisiana maneuvers. At that time we had a 75mm
concealed as some tanks approached down a road. We claimed a hit and a
tank destroyed. The umpire overruled us. He said, “It would be
impossible for a direct hit to damage a tank”. Our Texas artillery
achieved “the impossible” at Salerno. I was there. I saw it done.
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by Mary MacCombie Fietsam
Printed by Permission