Chaplains of the
36th Infantry Division


Chaplain (Colonel) Herbert E. MacCombie
Division Chaplain

Assisting Men In Confinement

One of the most difficult problems for the chaplain was how to help the men in the stockade.  Men were in the stockade for many reasons, murder, sedition, deserting, disobedience to orders, drunkenness, or simply being AWOL for short periods.  Whenever I went to the stockade there would be a long line of men wanting my help.  They thought, as one private said, “The chaplain has a drag like an anchor in a shark’s tail.”

Previous to World War II chaplains were often assigned as defense counsel.  This was an embarrassing situation.  If the man was found not guilty, the commanding officer was angry, because he thought that the chaplain was interfering with “good Discipline”.  If the man was convicted he was sure it was because the chaplain was a poor defense counsel.  I never met a man in the stockade who did not believe there were extenuating circumstances in his particular case.

During World War II regulations were changed to provide that chaplains should not be appointed as defense counsel, except when specifically requested by the accused.  We still were required to visit our men when they were in the stockade.  In the 36th Division one of the first cases to come to my attention was a soldier accused of inciting sedition and making false statements against the President.

He was an ardent follower of Father Coughlin.  When I talked with him, I learned that he was a Catholic, so I asked one of our Catholic Chaplains to handle the case.  A few days later the chaplain came to me and asked to be relieved of the responsibility.  I wanted to know “Why?”

“He is trying to get me to desert.  He insults the bishop, and he even denounces the Pope.  If I continue to talk with him, I may lose my temper.  That would be bad.”

I tried to handle the case.  When he came before the court-martial, he made such a tirade against the president, the army and the country, that he convicted himself by his own statements.  Even without the evidence which was before the court, any listener would have had to vote for conviction on the basis of his own statements to those present.

On one occasion I was talking with a soldier who had got drunk and caused a lot of damage.  I asked, “Why did you do such a foolish thing?”

He replied, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

I suppose a lot of our mistakes are like that.  They seemed like a good idea at the time.

I was talking with another soldier in the stockade and I was chiding him for the trouble he was making.  He said to me, “Remember, Chaplain, if we were all perfect, you would be out of a job.”

He was right.  It was my job to help all my men.  Sometimes it was discouraging.  A man would tell you one story.  You would check on the facts, and find that he had been lying.  When you went back, he would admit he had lied, and then tell another story, which when checked out would prove to be false.  Still you had to keep trying.

Sometimes you succeeded.  I remember one case of a young company commander who brought charges against one of his men.  I suggested to him that it was hardly a case for a special court martial.

He said, “I have got to show these men who is running this company."

I intervened.  The man was found, “Not Guilty.” The captain came to me and complained that now the situation was bad, because of what had happened.

I told him, “Maybe next time you will take advice from an old man who has been with this army for twenty years.”

As far as I know, he did not [again] try to prove by court martial “Who was running the company.”


Copyright 2001 by Mary MacCombie Fietsam
Printed by Permission

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