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