Chaplains of the
36th Infantry Division


Chaplain (Colonel) Herbert E. MacCombie
Division Chaplain

C Rations, Birthday Cake And G.I. Soap

While we were working in the cemetery at Vannulo, we saw a cloud of mist sweeping towards us.  Immediately the cry “GAS!” went up.  There was much confusion.  Fortunately Master Sergeant Downing O. Smith of the Chemical Warfare Section was working with us.  He immediately got out his kit and made proper tests.  It was not gas.  It was simply Italian fog mixed with the smoke of battle.  What a relief!

When my assistant, Corporal Charles Schwartz was wounded and evacuated to Africa, I was very short of help.  Sergeant Sweigert was in charge of our Rear Echelon and did not arrive until D + 10.  The officers of the 47th W.M. Co., (Graves Registration) did not arrive until D plus 14.  There were enlisted men of the G.R. present, but they were short of clerical help.

In the emergency Master Sergeant Smith came to my assistance.  In addition to his assigned duties with the C.W.S. and the liaison section he volunteered to help me.  For eight days he carried on his work in an efficient and cheerful manner.  Later on I was glad to join Major Claude J. Merrill in recommending him for a Bronze Star Medal which he received.

My birthday is September 17th.  On that day we were very busy in the Vannulo Cemetery.  Some of the men working with me came and told me they were lighting a fire to heat their rations. They said, “Give us your rations and we will heat them for you.”

C Rations were always more appetizing when warm.  I gave them my can.  Presently they called out; “Dinner is served”.

I took my mess kit and went to where they were.  There I found not only heated rations, but also a cake with chocolate frosting and a large candle.  It was my birthday cake.

I don’t know how they succeeded in producing a birthday cake in such circumstances.  Where did they get the ingredients?  Where were they able to bake it?

They wouldn’t tell me, and I had learned not to ask too many questions.  It still remains as one of the most memorable birthdays of my life.  To make such an effort in such conditions, I thought maybe they had accepted me as a TEXAN: In heart, if not by birth.

After we closed the cemetery at Vannulo, we opened a new one near a bend in the road at Alta Villa.  It was a flat piece of farmland.  Nearby was a farmhouse that sheltered about thirty members of the family.  They had been caught for many days between the lines of the Germans and the Americans.

They were hungry.  I had accumulated several cans of Vegetable Hash (my men found them the least appetizing of the three types of C Rations).  I gave them several cans of the Vegetable Hash.  They were delighted.

Then they saw my Chaplain’s Cross and exclaimed, “Il Prete!  Il Prete!”

I answered “Si”.

I did not know their word for Protestant, so I let it go at that.  They saw my ring.  Evidently they thought a man so rich must be a bishop.  They all lined up from the old grandmother to the youngest child (about thirty in all), and came by and kissed my wedding ring.

Later they offered to wash my clothes.  I decided that if THEY thought I was dirty, I had better get cleaned up.

They had no soap.  I got a piece of GI soap and brought some clothes to them.  I included my altar cloths, which were embroidered with a small cross.  When I came for my laundry, everything was beautifully washed and ironed.  My altar cloths had never before been so beautifully done, not even by the professional laundry.

I offered to pay them, but they refused money.  They asked, if they could have the remainder of the bar of soap.  Of course I let them have it.  When I passed by a few days later every bush was decorated with drying clothes.  Apparently they made good use of the soap.


Copyright 2001 by Mary MacCombie Fietsam
Printed by Permission

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