Friday, February 22, 2013

Fr Kapaun to Receive Medal of Honor

‎"Christ's works testified to what he was; our works will testify as to what we are." —Father Emil Kapaun
Emil Kapaun was born in Pilsen, Kansas in 1916. He grew up, and attended seminary in St. Louis before being ordained in 1940. He served as a priest in the Diocese of Wichita and joined the US Army in 1944. Fr. Kapaun deployed to the China-Burma-India Theater and was promoted to captain; he returned to the United States in early 1946 to resume his service as a priest for Wichita.

This only lasted two years, since he decided to re-join the military, and was stationed at Ft. Bliss, Texas. Fr. Kapaun saw his parents for the last time in 1949. 

His unit was sent to Japan in January 1950, and deployed to Korea one month after the North Korean invasion of the south. He moved northward with the 8th Cavalry Regiment in the push-back against the Communist aggressors. Fr. Kapaun did not complain much, except about his lack of sleep; by the gift of faith  alone was he able to give the sacraments to the soldiers on the battlefield. Mass was said on a Jeep, and he was constantly losing his Jeep and Mass kit to shelling from the enemy. 
The most iconic photo of Father Kapaun. It was taken Oct. 7, 1950, less
than a month before he was taken prisoner. In the photo, Kapaun
celebrates Mass using the hood of his jeep as an altar. Kneeling is
Kapaun's assistant, Patrick J. Schuler, who was with him the night he
was captured.
Courtesy of Raymond Skeehan
saying the Mass on top of a Jeep
Near Unsan, North Korea, Fr. Kapaun was captured by Chinese Communists in November 1950 and was marched 87 miles to a POW camp. Somehow he managed to convince soldiers to help carry injured and sick GIs, even as they disobeyed the orders of the senior officers. In the camp, Fr. Kapaun did as much as he could to raise morale, including acquiring dysentery drugs for the Army doctor and tea-with a kettle of water- for the GIs, and served as a leader to the men in the camp. He developed a blood clot in the leg, and fell ill with pneumonia and dysentery, dying in May 1951. His fellow POWs say that their captors, sick of his defiance of Communist brainwashing and celebrating prayers and the sacraments, locked him in a room where he could not get food or water, which killed him in his already-weakened state. He was buried in a mass grave on the Yalu River.
One of the two iconic photographs of Father Emil Kapaun shows him and
another soldier carrying an exhausted GI off a battlefield in Korean,
early in the war. The photo shows Kapaun to the GI's left. The soldier
on the GI's right side was Capt. Jerome A. Dolan, a medical officer
with the 8th Cavalry regiment. 
Courtesy of Acme Photo
Fr. Kapaun is seen here on the viewer's left, carrying a GI with an 8th Cav doctor

In August 1951, he was posthumously awarded the Army's second-highest award for gallantry, the Distinguished Service Cross. After a seventy-year campaign to elevate his award to the Medal of Honor, President Obama acted on the authority given to him by Congress in 2011 (the last year we actually had a National Defense Authorization Act), and will award his relatives his Medal of Honor on April 21.

In 1993, the Bishop of Wichita declared Kapaun a Servant of God, the first step in the path to sainthood. Even with frozen feet, he administered the sacraments at great personal risk, since he often went out under intense mortar and heavy weapons fire. Most of the 8th Cav was Protestant,  with some non-Christians (Jews, I guess) but by the end of his life, they were all praying the Rosary with Fr. Kapaun. The men in camp all credit one thing in particular to him: He did not despair, and encouraged everyone to hope, even in their darkest hours in the freezing North Korean POW camp.

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