Chaplains of the
36th Infantry Division


Chaplain (Colonel) Herbert E. MacCombie
Division Chaplain

Anzio And Velletri

I returned to the division on April 27.  I was sent with Sergeant Sweigert to Sorrento for further recuperation.  On May 19th we boarded an LST for our trip to Anzio.

We set up our office in “dug out” position.  The cemetery for the Anzio beachhead was located at Nettuno.  On May 30th the chaplains of the VI Corps had planned a Memorial Day service.  Chaplain Roemer attended the Memorial Service, but I was called to a staff conference.

At the conference I learned that the division was to make a frontal attack on the German positions.  Three other divisions had already tried and had failed.  It made me heartsick.

When I was a young infantry lieutenant I had been taught that a frontal attack was tactically a last resort.  One should try an infiltration or an encirclement whenever possible.  In the light of my training and the experience of three battered divisions such orders seemed wrong.

I went down to the cemetery at Nettuno to make plans for the large number of casualties I anticipated.  It was a gloomy day for me.  When I returned to the division C.P., I learned that plans had been changed.

General Walker’s plan for an infiltration had been approved. We all had great confidence in General Walker.  Whatever he planned and wherever he led, we would be glad to follow. Velletri was not easy, but it held a real chance for victory.  During the battle I lost three good friends in one week – Lt. Colonel Harold Reese, Division Inspector, Lt. Colonel Barton, Divisions Signal Officer, and Lt. Gutterman of the 36th Recon Troop.

During this battle I became the target for a sniper.  He missed me and two of our men went after him.  They brought him in minus his rifle and his helmet.  He called out, “Kamerad”.  I did not feel very much like a comrade just then.

We took up a position near a school house.  There were two ravines separated by a small ridge.  Apparently the enemy had the area marked on their artillery maps and had left behind an observer to let them know when we arrived.

In a short time the German artillery opened up on us.  Four shells landed in the adjacent ravine.  I remembered our own artillery.  After the first round they would shift 5 mils right or left.  I was sure the next round would land right where I was.  A second round and a third round came in — right where the first four shells had landed.  Evidently the Germans were so sure of themselves, they didn’t adjust their fire to make allowance for any errors.  Thanks to their assurance none of our men were injured.

I personally took the bodies of Lt. Gutterman, Col. Reese, and Col. Barton to the cemetery and conducted burial services.  Several officers and men from Division Headquarters were present for the funeral of Colonel Reese.  He was a good friend and had always been a great help in our religious services.  His daughter was a classmate of my daughter at Bates College in Maine.  I took special pains to inform General Walker of his death, because I knew that they had long years of association and had served together in both World War I and World War II.


Copyright 2001 by Mary MacCombie Fietsam
Printed by Permission

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