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