Chaplains of the
36th Infantry Division


Chaplain (Colonel) Herbert E. MacCombie
Division Chaplain

In Hospital

In December I was taken to the hospital.  After six weeks I was evacuated to Africa.  I was told that I would be marked “unfit for combat duty” and probably be returned to the States.  For this reason I was not with the division during the action at the Rapido.

However, General Wilbur came to see me in the hospital.  He told me what had happened and stated that he had never seen greater heroism than that displayed by the men of the 36th Division.  He was a Congressional Medal of Honor man; the only one that I really knew personally.  I thought he was a good judge of bravery.  His comments convinced me that the Texans had done the best that could be done under the conditions.  If there was a mistake made at the Rapido, it was not the fault of the 36th Division.

While I was in the hospital General Ryder of the 34th Division was in the same ward.  He told me a very interesting story of the fighting in Tunisia.  He had a chaplain who liked to use his camera.  When the Germans began to surrender in great numbers, General Ryder invited the Chaplain to go with him to the P.O.W. cage and take some pictures.

While the chaplain was there, he was approached by a German officer who began to complain about the way the Americans were handling the situation.  The Germans did it so much better.  Conditions were terrible.  It was all very unmilitary.  The chaplain listened until he grew tired.

Then he said, “You Germans probably would do it better.  You planned for a war.  We did not.  Secondly, we never expected you Germans to surrender in such great numbers.  Thirdly, I came over here to bury you Germans, not to talk to you. Good day.”

Some men become very conscious of their rank.  Our ward held about thirty men.  One was full colonel.  He did not like the radio and would get up and turn it off, much to the chagrin of the other men.  I reminded him that among patients there was no rank.  Only the staff personnel could exercise the privilege of rank.

He said, “I’ll hold on to mine.”

I got up and turned the radio back on with much applause from the other patients.  There was a row, but the doctors backed me up.  The radio stayed on.

When I was recovered enough to be released, I left the hospital with my legs still in bandages.  The men in the ward prepared some interesting “Going Away” signs and wished me good luck.

Not many high-ranking officers had requested return to their units.  I was sent to a Replacement Depot, where they told me that usually one could expect a long stay there.  I kept pestering the adjutant without success.  Finally I heard that a ship was sailing to Italy with some replacements.  I told him I wanted to go.  He said that there was a small detachment of casual officers going, and if I would accept the responsibility, he could send me along as commanding officer of the casual detachment.  I agreed to accept the assignment.

He looked at my T-Patch and said, “You won’t like it.”

I said, “I’ll take a chance.”

When we got on board, I found that all the rest of the soldiers were black.  The ship’s captain would not allow anyone in the mess hall except at meal times.  The ship was very crowded and there was no place to sit, except in the mess hall.  He didn’t like soldiers and he especially disliked black soldiers.  However, on Sunday we had a fine church service.  The men could really sing.  Finally we reached Italy and my sergeant came and got me in our jeep.

Speaking of being rank conscious I remember when we received our first issue of liquor.  There were twelve bottles of whiskey to be shared by about 600 men.  It was decided to distribute the liquor in order of rank.  At once there was much checking of records.  As senior lieutenant colonel on the division staff I was number 4 – two generals and one colonel outranked me.  After the issue had been completed, number 13 came to me.

He asked, “Did you take your liquor?”

I said, “Yes”.

He said, “I didn’t think you would take it.  I thought some one was cheating me.  What did you take it for?  You don’t drink.”

I replied, “I figured that with such a small supply no enlisted man would even get a smell.  I sent my bottle down to the Clearing Station.  As long as it lasts each man who comes in without a belly wound will get a slug of whiskey to cheer him up.”

Chaplain Roemer made the distribution for me.


Copyright 2001 by Mary MacCombie Fietsam
Printed by Permission

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