Chaplains of the
36th Infantry Division


Chaplain (Colonel) Herbert E. MacCombie
Division Chaplain

St. Marie aux Mines

At St. Maries aux Mines we found two Protestant churches.  Under army regulations no Catholic Chaplain could use a Protestant church. After twenty months overseas this was our first opportunity to use a Protestant church.  The two Protestant churches were only using one building, because of the shortage of coal.  The Civil Affairs officer secured coal for us.  On Friday morning the 143rd Infantry used the church.  On Sunday morning the 736th Ordnance Company held a service.  Division Headquarters held a service which filled the church to capacity.  On Monday morning we held a funeral service in the church for Captain Richard Selkirk.  We had made good use of our first Protestant church.

When we were at St. Marie aux Mines the local Catholic priest came to me and asked for permission to hold a Te Deum.  I approved.  Then he asked, if they could wear their Alsatian costumes.  The Germans had forbidden them to wear the Alsatian costumes.  It was a crime to speak French.  Of course I gave permission for such a service.  Many of the children would come to me accompanied by their parents, and speak to me in French to demonstrate that they had defied the German authorities.

Of the two Protestant churches in St. Marie aux Mines, one was the Eglise Reforme with a French background.  The local citizens were having combined services in the Eglise Reforme.  The two pastors came to me and invited me to participate in a Thanksgiving Service at 0945 on Sunday morning.  They told me that the liturgy would be in German, because the Germans had destroyed all their French hymn books.  The sermon would be in FRENCH.  Would I lead in the Lord’s Prayer and give the benediction at the end of the service?

I asked whether I should give the benediction in German or in French.

“Please give the benediction in English.”

I said, “I know that your people are bilingual and understand both French and German, but will they understand my English?”

“No, they will not understand your English, but they will understand that God hears His children in whatever tongue they speak.”

I attended the service.  The church was filled to overflowing.  They had to sing a cappella, because the organ had been damaged by shell fire.  When they sang, “Nun Danket” (Now Thank We All Our God), it seemed to me to be the most emotional hymn of Thanksgiving I had ever heard.

During our service in Alsace, I developed a great sympathy for the Alsatian people.  The Germans said, “Elsass ist Deutsch fur ein tausend jahre”.  The French said, “Alsace! C’est la belle France”.  The Alsatians said, “We are Alsatians.  Period”.


Copyright 2001 by Mary MacCombie Fietsam
Printed by Permission

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