Of Faith and Valor

The Medal of Honor
The Medal of Honor | Source
Emil Kapaun, Captain, US Army Chaplain
Emil Kapaun, Captain, US Army Chaplain | Source
Father Emil Kapaun while a seminary student
Father Emil Kapaun while a seminary student | Source

"It's About Time"

In a simple, reverent ceremony befitting both a man of the cloth and a fallen hero, Pres. Obama yesterday posthumously bestowed the Medal of Honor on Father (Capt) Emil Kapaun, a US Army Chaplain some sixty years after his extraordinary act of heroism and self-sacrifice while serving with the 3rd Battalion/8th Calvary Regiment in Korea.

The President told attendees that among other extraordinary acts of heroism, Father Kapaun shoved an enemy soldier aside who was about to execute a wounded American soldier, picked up the soldier and carried him some four miles during a death march to a POW camp.

While a POW, he continued to care for his men, treating their wounds as best he could, convincing them to share their very scarce food rations and provided spiritual comfort.

The President also quoted a soldier who served with Father Kapaun who said, "It's about time"

Father Emil Kapaun

Born Emil Joseph Kapaun on April 20, 1916 to Czech immigrant parents Enos and Elizabeth, he grew up on a farm near Pilsen, Ks.

He was ordained a Priest in the Roman Catholic Church in June, 1940, and celebrated his first Mass at St. John Nepomucene in Pilsen.

Joining the Army as a 2nd Lieutenant, he served as a Chaplain at Camp Wheeler, Ga before being sent to the CBI (China-Burma-India) Theater.

He was promoted to Captain in January 1946, and returned stateside for discharge in May of that year.

He earned an M.A. in education from Catholic University of Washington in 1948.

In September, 1948, he rejoined the Army as a Chaplain at Ft. Bliss, Tx.

In July 1950, he and his unit, 3rd Battalion/8th Cavalry Regiment/1st Cavalry Division, were ordered into combat on the Pusan Perimeter in Korea

Father Emil Kapaun (right) and a doctor carry an exhausted Soldier off a battlefield in Korea, 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 Cav
Father Emil Kapaun (right) and a doctor carry an exhausted Soldier off a battlefield in Korea, 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 Cav | Source

November, 1950

From the Pusan Perimeter, Father Kapaun accompanied the 3rd battalion as they fought their way north, tending to soldiers needs.

He was sometimes called the "Good Thief" for sneaking off to forage fruits and vegetables from gardens and orchards. One soldier, Ray Dowe, Jr, a fellow POW told this story:

" Helmet jammed down over his ears, pockets stuffed with apples and peaches he had scrounged from Korean orchards, he’d ride this bone-shaker over the rocky roads and the paths through the paddy fields until he came to the forward outposts. There he’d drop in a shallow hole beside a nervous rifleman, crack a joke or two, hand him a peach, say a little prayer with him and move on to the next hole."


Like all Chaplains, he was equipped with a Jeep and trailer for use in his duties. Kapaun was constantly losing his to enemy fire.

In August, 1950, he was awarded the Bronze Star with Valor Device for repeatedly braving enemy fire to drag wounded soldiers to safety.

Then in November 1950, thousands of Chinese troops poured across the Yalu River into North Korea.

They attacked and surrounded the 8th at Unsan. When the evacuation order was given for all able-bodied soldiers, he refused to leave remaining behind to tend the wounded, facing certain death or capture.

As their situation turned to hand-to-hand combat, Father Kapaun found a wounded Chinese officer and convinced him to negotiate the surrender of the survivors.

The only known surviving photograph of Prison Camp Number 5 in Pyoktong, North Korea. Several prisoners managed to hold on to cameras upon being captured. Unfortunately, most were confiscated or destroyed during the years of imprisonment.
The only known surviving photograph of Prison Camp Number 5 in Pyoktong, North Korea. Several prisoners managed to hold on to cameras upon being captured. Unfortunately, most were confiscated or destroyed during the years of imprisonment. | Source

Prisoner of War

Following their surrender, Father Kapaun and his fellow soldiers were rounded up for a forced march northward to a POW camp.

It was at this point that he saw a Chinese soldier standing over a wounded American, aiming his rifle at his head, preparing to execute him. Father Emil ran over, shoved the enemy soldier to the ground, and as he watched stunned, calmly picked Sergeant First Class Herbert A. Miller up and proceeded to carry him the next four miles of the 87-mile death march.

While a POW, he continued to care for the men, cleansing and treating wounds, seeing to their spiritual needs.He would tear old T-shirts into bandages, sneak off to forage food, or steal drugs to treat the dysentery that ran rampant in the camp. At night, he would sneak around, blessing the men, praying for and with them.

He would hold the men in his arms as they fell into delirium and as they died.

He constantly defied and mocked his captors, one story told about him:

"Where is your God now?” guards demanded.

“Right here,” he replied.

One day a Chinese officer lectured Kapaun.

“Don’t ask God for your daily bread,” the officer said. “Ask Mao Zedong. He’s the one who provides your daily bread.”

“If this is an example of God’s daily bread,” Kapaun said, “then God must be a terrible baker.”


For Easter, he fashioned a crucifix from wood, used radio antenna wire to make Christ's crown of thorns and celebrated Sunrise Mass, leading the men through the "Lord's Prayer" and "America the Beautiful" sung so loudly that men in other parts of the camp heard and joined in.

Father Kapaun conducts services with the hood of his Jeep serving as an altar
Father Kapaun conducts services with the hood of his Jeep serving as an altar | Source

"No Greater Love Hath One Man Than This..."

Despite falling ill with dysentery and a blood clot in his leg, Father Kapaun continued to minister to the men, instilling the will to survive and inspiring them in Faith.

When finally he could no longer continue, guards dragged him off to a "death house", where he and others were simply left with no food or medicine to die unattended.

His fellow prisoners quoted him as saying, "Tell them back home I died a happy death," and "I'm going where I always wanted to go."

As guards dragged him away, he was heard to quote Jesus' words from the Cross: "Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do."

On May 23, 1951 Chaplain (Capt) Emil Joseph Kapaun, US Army, died, age 35 years, 1 month, 2 days.

Relieved of a major pain in the ass, his communist captors simply dumped the body of the Priest into an unmarked grave without honor, without simple human dignity.

His remains were never repatriated.

When his fellow POW's were released 2 years later, they crossed the "Freedom Bridge" into South Korea with the crucifix he built out front, leading them to freedom.

Ray Kapaun accepts his uncle's Medal of Honor from Pres. Obama
Ray Kapaun accepts his uncle's Medal of Honor from Pres. Obama | Source

The Medal of Honor

On August 18, 1951, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions at Unsan. Among his other awards: the Legion of Merit, the aforementioned Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.

He was named by the Vatican "A Servant of God," a possible precursor to Sainthood.

Finally on April 11, 2013, almost 62 years after his death, President Barack Obama presented the Medal of Honor to his Nephew, Ray Kapaun.

Herbert A. Miller, seated in the front row in the East Room of the White House, wept as the Citation was read:

"The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3, 1863, has awarded in the name of Congress the Medal of Honor to

Chaplain (Captain) Emil J. Kapaun
United States Army

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:

Chaplain Emil J. Kapaun distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the 3d Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy at Unsan, Korea, from November 1-2, 1950. On November 1, as Chinese Communist Forces viciously attacked friendly elements, Chaplain Kapaun calmly walked through withering enemy fire in order to provide comfort and medical aid to his comrades and rescue friendly wounded from no-man's land. Though the Americans successfully repelled the assault, they found themselves surrounded by the enemy. Facing annihilation, the able-bodied men were ordered to evacuate. However, Chaplain Kapaun, fully aware of his certain capture, elected to stay behind with the wounded. After the enemy succeeded in breaking through the defense in the early morning hours of November 2, Chaplain Kapaun continually made rounds, as hand-to-hand combat ensued. As Chinese Communist Forces approached the American position, Chaplain Kapaun noticed an injured Chinese officer amongst the wounded and convinced him to negotiate the safe surrender of the American Forces. Shortly after his capture, Chaplain Kapaun, with complete disregard for his personal safety and unwavering resolve, bravely pushed aside an enemy soldier preparing to execute Sergeant First Class Herbert A. Miller. Not only did Chaplain Kapaun's gallantry save the life of Sergeant Miller, but also his unparalleled courage and leadership inspired all those present, including those who might have otherwise fled in panic, to remain and fight the enemy until captured. Chaplain Kapaun's extraordinary heroism and selflessness, above and beyond the call of duty, are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the 3d Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, the 1st Cavalry Division, and the United States Army."

So did I.

Painting of Fr. Kapaun by artist Cynthia Hitschler, commissioned by Kennrick-Glennon Seminary class of 2012. Fr. Kapaun was a 1940 graduate.
Painting of Fr. Kapaun by artist Cynthia Hitschler, commissioned by Kennrick-Glennon Seminary class of 2012. Fr. Kapaun was a 1940 graduate. | Source

"It is foolish and wrong to mourn the ones who died. Rather, we should thank God such men lived." Gen. George S. Patton

The Citation to Accompany the Medal of Honor, as it often does, falls short of telling this story of valor and faith.

As hard as I have tried, I too have fallen miserably short of that goal.

How do you tell this story in a few words, or a few paragraphs?

How do you wrap your mind around and convey the hell on earth Father Kapaun and his fellow Prisoners of War suffered through and explain the courage and the strength it took to survive it?

If you haven't been in combat, if you haven't been a POW, you cannot even begin to imagine what it must have been like.

Father Kapaun, in his faith, could not be shaken. He could not be broken. His unwavering faith in God, his love for his fellow man and his courage in the face of impossible odds, even as his body failed him, strengthened and inspired his fellow POW's in ways you and I will never understand. And that my friends, is a miracle.

Thank God such a man as Emil Joseph Kapaun lived.



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frogyfish profile image

frogyfish 3 years ago from Central United States of America

Thank you for writing this inspiring article. Such a man As Emil Joseph Kapaun is to be honored in memory, and in heart!

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