Chaplains of the
36th Infantry Division


Chaplain (Colonel) Herbert E. MacCombie
Division Chaplain

An Audience With The Pope

On June 4th I held a communion service.  Lieutenant Colonel Carl Phinney served as my deacon.

On June 5th I was with the general’s party as we passed through Rome at night and occupied a castle northwest of Rome.  The next day Chaplain Roemer and I visited Rome.

We visited St. Peter’s, the Coliseum, the catacombs of St. Agnes, the Church of St. John, (Lateran), the national Memorial Piazza, the ancient Forum and the ancient walls.  The streets were thronged with people.  We found the bodies of two Americans, which had been covered with roses.  We picked up an American escaped Prisoner of War, and turned him over to the Provost Marshall.  In the evening I accompanied General Walker on a tour of the most interesting places.

On June 7th some of my men reported to me that civilians were looting a convent near Bracciano.  They had taken 1,000 liters of wine the night before and threatened to come back and burn the place down.  The men were in too much of a hurry to keep up with their unit, and wanted me to investigate.

Not being allowed to carry arms, I asked the Provost Marshall and a CIC officer to go with me.  We found that the convent had been used by the Germans as a hospital.  We went through the hospital and found a German priest and four Fascist leaders.  They were armed, but we were faster with our arms.

The priest was wearing civilian clothes, but his papers indicated he had been a chaplain in the German army.  Under the Geneva Convention chaplains were not supposed to be made prisoners of war.  I decided to let him go.  I advised him to get down to the Vatican and stay there until the war was over.  I assured him that, if we found him again, we would regard him as a spy and treat him accordingly.

We disarmed the four Fascist leaders and led them away as prisoners.  As we passed along the street some of the civilians threatened our prisoners and probably would have strung them up right then, if we had not been armed.  I checked back a couple of times later, but now everything was peaceful.

On June 12th General Walker informed me that it was his desire that every chaplain of the division be given an opportunity to visit Rome.  In a conference with the G1, Colonel Ives, it was agreed that we would send three chaplains each week to stay at the Division Hotel.  Later on this visit had to be shortened to three and a half days, because of a change in division’s orders.

Some of the unit commanders permitted the chaplains to take their jeeps with them.  Chaplain Sweeney had his jeep stolen while he was in Rome.  It caused him a lot of trouble, we were short seventy vehicles of this type in the division and it took a long time to requisition a new one.

While Chaplain Fenton was in Rome he visited the Vatican and made arrangements for a private audience for General Walker and his staff with the Pope.  When we made the visit at a late date, we were very graciously received.  I told the Pope that I was from Boston, which he had visited prior to his elevation.  He said to us that he had noticed that the American soldiers were very religious.

I told him, “Not all of them.”

He smiled and said, “Not all of them, but more than in any other army of the world.”

I am sure that Chaplain Fenton was glad he had arranged the audience.  Later on when the Fifth Army Chaplain, Chaplain Ryan, arranged for all Catholic Chaplains of the Fifth Army to meet the Pope he introduced each chaplain in person.  When he presented Chaplain Fenton, the Pope said, “I have already met Chaplain Fenton.”  That probably put Chaplain Fenton in a class by himself.


Copyright 2001 by Mary MacCombie Fietsam
Printed by Permission

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