Sunday, November 4, 2012


(Wendy Lewis)

, was born in Pilsen, Kansas of Czech immigrants on Holy Thursday, April 20, 1916.  He graduated from Conception Abbey (Benedictine) seminary college in Conception, Missouri, in June 1936. He then attended Kenrick Theological Seminary in St. Louis, where he was ordained in June 1940. He entered the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps in 1944 and ministered to approximately 19,000 service men and women. Separated from the service in 1946, he re-entered the Army in 1948 and was sent to Japan the following year.

First Holy Communion

In July of 1950 Father Kapaun was ordered to Korea. Later that year- he was captured near Unsan, North Korea. The POWs marched for 87 miles to a prison camp near Pyoktong, North Korea. Father Kapaun was able to influence some prisoners, who were ignoring orders from officers, to carry the wounded. At the camp, he dug latrines, mediated disputes, gave away his own food, and raised morale among the prisoners. He also led prisoners in acts of defiance and smuggled dysentery drugs to the doctor, Sidney Esensten. In the seven months in prison, Father Kapaun spent himself in heroic service to his fellow prisoners without regard for race, color or creed. According to fellow soldiers, he repeatedly saved lives.
His main complaint was lack of sleep for several weeks at a time. He constantly ministered to the dead and dying while performing baptisms, hearing first Confessions, offering Holy Communion and celebrating Mass from an improvised altar set up on the front end of an army jeep. He constantly would lose his Mass kit, and jeep and trailer to enemy fire. He told how he was thoroughly convinced that the prayers of many others were what had saved him so many times up until his capture. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal in September 1950 just before his capture.

Soldiers of all faiths said he made pans for sanitizing water, gave away his meager rations to starving soldiers, and inspired hundreds of starving soldiers to rally, not only to stay alive but to defy Communist captors who tried to force soldiers to betray their country.

Ignoring his own ill health, he nursed the sick and wounded until a blood clot in his leg prevented his daily rounds.  Moved to a so-called hospital, but denied medical assistance, his death soon followed on May 23, 1951.  He was buried in a mass grave near the Yalu River.

In August 18, 1951, Father Kapaun was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions.
Memorial, Pilsen, Kansas

He was most remembered for his great humility, bravery, his constancy, his love and kindness and solicitude for his fellow prisoners. "He was their hero... their admired and beloved "padre." He kept up the G.I.'s morale, and most of all, made it possible for a lot of men to become good Catholics."

A detailed account of Servant of God Emil Kapaun's life is recounted in Fr. Arthur Tonne's Chaplain Kapaun: Patriot Priest of the Korean Conflict. The author writes:

    "In a very definite sense, we are all beneficiaries from the life of Fr. Kapaun. He has left us a stirring example of devotion to duty. He has passed on to us a spirit of tolerance and understanding. He has given us a share of dauntless bravery - of body and soul. He has transmitted to every one of us a new appreciation of America, and a keener, more realistic understanding of our country's greatest enemy- godlessness, now stalking the world in the form of communism. He has bequeathed a picture of Christ-like life. What Fr. Kapaun willed to us cannot be contained in memorials, however costly or beautiful. It is a treasure for the human soul — the spirit of one who loved and served God and man — even unto death."

Wendy Lewis- Newman University


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