Chaplains of the
36th Infantry Division
Chaplain (Colonel) Herbert E. MacCombie
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
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.
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."
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
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by Mary MacCombie Fietsam
Printed by Permission