Chaplains of the
36th Infantry Division


Chaplain (Colonel) Herbert E. MacCombie
Division Chaplain

Displaced Persons

On March 24th we moved with the Division C.P. to Herxheim, Germany.  Here made our first contacts with displaced personnel. Lt. Colonel Grady C. Durham asked for my help in some of the pressing problems.

We had about one hundred twenty five persons located in a factory building.  They were of many nationalities — French, Dutch, Polish, Russians.  They had had no food for sometime.  My first job was to find food for them.

I went to see the local Burgomeister.  He was not interested.  There was no food available.  I became impatient.  I remembered that the Germans had fired on some of our medical personnel and our chaplains when they were serving the wounded while carrying the Red Cross flag.  They had fired on me when my vehicle bore the Red Cross Flag.  I decided that I would be firm.  I would not take “NO” for an answer from any German official.

I told the Burgomeister, “If we were not here, these people would still be working for you and you would have to feed them.  If, as you say there is no food available, I will have to find it.  I will go to your house and take out all the food there.  Then I will go to the next house, and the next.  I will seize all food from house to house until I get enough to feed these people.”

He suddenly capitulated.  The displaced persons were fed.

There were no sleeping accommodations. I thought the men could make out all right.  They would be no worse off than our fighting men had been for months.  They could sleep on the floor.  However, there were eighteen women, whom I thought should have better accommodations.

I went to the Burgomeister.  Again there was no room.  Again I threatened to take over his house.  Suddenly he had a bright idea.  There were beds in the local hospital.  “Would that do?”  That was fine.

The only available transportation was my jeep.  I would have to make four trips.  When I came back with the second load, I was met by the Senior Schwester.  She put up quite a fuss.  Her beds were clean.  These women were dirty.  They couldn’t take them in.

I listened for a few minutes.  Then I told her, “It makes no difference to me where you Germans sleep.  You can sleep on the ground, if necessary.  Tonight these women must sleep in bed.  That is an order.”

I turned on my heel and stomped out.

When I came back with the third and fourth loads, I found them drinking coffee (ersatz).  The following morning I was told, “After you left, she asked, ‘Who is he’.  We didn’t know, so we said, ‘He is a Russian officer’.  Then she asked, if we would like some coffee.  She was very much afraid when you said 'Mussen'.”

Apparently the German word carries much more determination than our must.  After that I used it often in securing action from the German authorities. During our stay in Herxheim I continued to do what I could to assist the Military Government section.


Copyright 2001 by Mary MacCombie Fietsam
Printed by Permission

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