Skip to comments.Introduction: The Miracle of Father Kapaun Priest, Soldier and Korean War Hero
Posted on 05/17/2013 8:25:49 PM PDT by Salvation
Some people regard the meek man as one who will not put up a fight for anything but will let others run over him .... In fact from human experience we know that to accomplish anything good a person must make an effort; and making an effort is putting up a fight against the obstacles. - Father Emil Kapaun
Emil Kapaun priest, soldier and Korean War hero is a rare man. He has been awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award, and is being considered by the Vatican for canonization as a saint.
There was nothing remarkable about Emil Kapaun's childhood or early manhood to suggest that he would become a Korean War hero and might someday be declared a Catholic saint. He grew up on a farm in Kansas, where he was born in the kitchen on April 20, 1916. His parents were pious and hardworking, but so were lots of farmers in America's heartland.
Kapaun was a good student at the local public school and later at an abbey high school and college, but with his quiet and unassuming manner he did not stand out as exceptional. His early priesthood and military chaplaincy were uneventful.
When we began the research for Kapaun's story, the chief investigator of his cause for sainthood confided some concerns about his own work. Rev. John Hotze had spent a decade investigating Kapaun for the Vatican. He said one of the frustrating things about talking to Kapaun's Catholic supporters is that many of them used cliches to describe him-surrounding the man's actions with choirs of angels singing and playing harps: "He was such a holy man."
Years ago, some initial Church investigators appeared to seek the same type of descriptions when they questioned Kapaun's fellow prisoners of war. They asked those survivors of North Korea's POW camps whether Kapaun prayed "fervently" every day; whether he was "holy" at all times; and whether dying soldiers got up and walked immediately after Kapaun had laid his hands on them. Although the questions irritated Kapaun's battle-scarred friends, they answered them politely enough.
The Kapaun these friends remembered, however, was no painted-plaster saint. He was a regular guy. He did ordinary things. And he stank and looked dirty because the POWs never got to bathe.
Kapaun saved hundreds of lives, said Lt. Mike Dowe, but not "by levitating himself two feet off the ground". He did practical things, such as boiling water and picking lice tasks that can seem small but that made a huge difference for malnourished and sick POWs. The mostly soft-spoken man had a temper, Dowe recalled, and he sometimes used colorful language to get his point across.
This gritty reality was just the kind of thing Hotze intended to track down, he explained to us, as cliches would not do the job. Andrea Ambrosi, the Vatican investigator who helped Hotze prepare Kapaun's documents for the Vatican, had told him that Rome wanted the real Kapaun-warts, rags and all.
The job appealed to Hotze, a Wichita Diocese priest who tells good stories in his Sunday homilies. Hotze knew that many great saints down through the ages had been bad boys before their conversions. Paul and Augustine: notorious. Francis of Assisi: as fond of ladies as he was of wining and dining. Although not everyone makes a dramatic 180-degree turn on his way to his best self, every man is in need of conversion; each one has weaknesses and has done things he regrets. Hotze thought the flawed Kapaun would be not only more believable, but more able to offer hope to those who struggle to overcome their failings.
His way of witnessing Jesus was to spare the platitudes and dig foxholes or latrines alongside sweating soldiers.
Hotze gathered for the Vatican stories about Kapaun told by non-Catholic POWs-the Protestants, Jews, agnostics and atheists who had no qualms about relating the priest's foibles. And so far, Rome has given Kapaun the title Servant of God, the first of four steps toward canonization. Hotze's approach shaped the way we wrote our own story for the Wichita Eagle in 2009. We too wanted to show Kapaun as he really was.
This book is based on what Kapaun's fellow soldiers told photographer Travis Heying and me about the priest's actions in the Korean War. Although we went in search of the real man, we nevertheless heard stories about Kapaun that sounded miraculous, and for newspaper reporters and editors, the miraculous creates challenges. What soldiers say Kapaun did is so heroic that it defies believability. He saved hundreds of lives, they say, while placing his own at risk. How could such a story be written credibly?
Travis and I began our research by calling Dowe, Herb Miller and Kapaun's other prisoner-of-war friends in June 2009. We drove or flew all over the United States to talk with them. We saw firsthand that they had suffered deeply. They are still suffering. They choked up sometimes as they told us what they had experienced.
We admired these veterans, but still we wondered whether they had embellished their stories over sixty years of steaks and beers at POW reunion banquets.
One thing that convinced us that Kapaun's friends were telling us the truth was that they demanded we tell the truth in what we wrote about him. And we found consistency between what they said and the letters and recorded testimonies that the guys had given about Kapaun over the years.
Kapaun's friends do not consider themselves experts on miracles, but they know what they saw, and as far as they are concerned, the man himself was something like a miracle. By the time we talked to most of them, the secretary of the army and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had learned enough about the already decorated U.S. Army captain to recommend him, posthumously, for the highest military honor in the United States. The Pentagon is in the business of declaring war heroes, not saints. But to many of Kapaun's eyewitnesses, they amount to the same thing.
One of the striking things we learned about Kapaun was how little he said on any given day. In civilian life, as in camp, he listened more than he talked. He almost never preached. The chaplain did not even bring up the subject of prayer without permission.
On the march, Kapaun sometimes didn't bother to introduce himself to fellow soldiers as a chaplain or even as an officer. Instead he would throw himself into whatever task they were doing. And then, after the men saw him work harder than any other guy, he would ask whether there was anything more he could do for them, including praying with them.
The Miracle of Father Kapaun
by Wenzl & Heying
Some soldiers didn't care for chaplains, considering them Holy Joes who sermonized while grunts did the dirty work. But they liked Kapaun a lot, and one reason was that he made himself one of them. His way of witnessing Jesus was to spare the platitudes and dig foxholes or latrines alongside sweating soldiers.
Another reason the men liked Kapaun was that he treated everyone with respect. He showed Protestants, Jews, Muslims and nonbelievers the same kindness he bestowed on Catholics. Kapaun's friends said this quality stuck out because many people, even many practicing Christians, fail in showing regard to those different from themselves. When Kapaun died, the Muslim Turks in camp revered him as much as anybody else did.
That's who Father Kapaun was. And we know now how he got that way.
In that Kansas farmhouse where he grew up, Kapaun had read the Gospels by kerosene lamplight. In those pages, he had found a hero to imitate-the Jesus who claimed he was divine but who walked among ordinary men, healing them, feeding them, standing up for the weakest among them and dying for them. Jesus won people over more with actions than with words.
In a homily Kapaun prepared for Palm Sunday 1941, while he was still a young parish priest, he wrote that if a crisis ever came, a person who wants to help others should imitate Christ. And that's what Father Kapaun did.
Roy Wenzl and Travis Heying. "Introduction." from The Miracle of Father Kapaun Priest, Soldier and Korean War Hero (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2013): 11-15.
Reprinted by permission of Ignatius Press.
Travis Heying, a photographer, reporter and war correspondent for the Wichita Eagle, earned acclaim for his series on Afghan detainees. He is the co-author of The Miracle of Father Kapaun Priest, Soldier and Korean War Hero and produced and directed the film documentary The Miracle of Father Kapaun.
Copyright © 2013 Wichita Eagle
But the peace which God gives is a gift which exists in suffering, in want, or even in time of war. - Father Emil Kapaun
With him in the little tent was his assistant and driver, Pfc. Patrick J. Schuler, a young guy from Cincinnati.
All around them, as Third Battalion bedded down in a cornfield, were clues that foretold the disaster about to overtake them. With the North Koreans on the run, the Eighth Cavalry's distant commanders, in Seoul and in Japan, all seemed to think the war was as good as won. Some of the men had been told to pack their belongings and get ready for a victory parade in Tokyo. The generals insisted that the Chinese would not enter the war. The generals were wrong.
Lt. Bob Wood went into the hills on patrol and listened to enemy officers talking to one another on his radio. When he asked a South Korean what the enemy was saying, the Korean said, "Chinese."
Herb Miller, a tough little sergeant who had fought in World War II, had taken a patrol north and come back with a farmer who told Third Battalion intelligence officers that the surrounding mountains hid tens of thousands of Chinese. The intelligence officers scoffed. Miller, disgusted, watched the farmer go home, then stuffed his pockets with grenades.
Early on November 2, All Souls' Day, Miller took out another patrol to the top of a little rise and bedded down in the dark. By then, although he didn't know it, the First and Second Battalions were already being overrun; the Third Battalion was next.
After midnight, he heard a whistle downslope that sounded like a birdcall. Miller punched the GI sleeping next to him. "That's no birdcall!" he said. "We are in for it!"
They got out of there and headed back to the battalion. But then they saw hundreds of figures moving in the dark, and a bugle blew, and then another, accompanied by the ghostly calls of sheep horns blown by Chinese peasant soldiers. Then machine guns sprayed pink tracer bullets, and mortars began thumping. Wild music broke out in the night, war songs from bugles and thousands of throats.
Kapaun and Schuler had scrambled out of their tent long before this; word had come that First and Second Battalions had already folded and were on the road headed for the rear.
GIs fired flares into the night sky and caught their breath: They saw thousands of Chinese soldiers coming at them. A nineteen-year-old corporal named Bob McGreevy, dropping mortar shells down a tube, saw a forward observer come running.
"Get the hell out of here!" he yelled.
Twenty thousand Chinese, who the generals said were not in North Korea, had rushed out of the hills at the three thousand men of the Eighth Cavalry; the First and Second Battalions withdrew south.
Kapaun and Schuler, driving north, loaded a few of the wounded and brought them south. Then they went back for more, but this time they ran into a Chinese roadblock.
"Stay with the jeep and say your prayers", Kapaun told Schuler. "I'll be back."
He ran to find more wounded, but the Chinese attacked. Schuler, frantic, yelled Kapaun's name again and again. In desperation as the Chinese crept closer, he set the empty jeep on fire to destroy it. He never saw Kapaun again.
"That's no birdcall!" he said. "We are in for it!"
Most of the First Battalion would escape; some of the Second Battalion, too. But the eight hundred men of Third Battalion covered the withdrawal, and they were overrun.
Miller, running for cover, found GIs in a ditch quivering like puppies. "Get up!" Miller yelled, kicking them. "Get out of here!" They would not move.
All the GIs had to do to kill Chinese was point a rifle in any direction and shoot. Waves of Chinese reached the heart of the Third Battalion; men fought hand to hand. A machine gunner, Tibor Rubin, shot Chinese by the dozens but saw hundreds more keep coming.
GIs saw Kapaun running from foxhole to foxhole, dragging wounded out, saying prayers over the dying, hearing confessions amid gunfire, ripping open shirts to look at wounds. Men screamed at him to escape, but he ignored them. He had repeated chances to escape, as did Dr. Clarence Anderson, but the priest and the doctor repeatedly ran into the gunfire to drag men into the relative safety of the American perimeter.
Kapaun called McGreevy and others into a huddle.
''I'm going to give you guys the last rites," he said, "because a lot of you guys are not going to make it home." McGreevy noticed how calm Kapaun looked. The priest called out the sacred words in English, not Latin; the GIs were from all shades of belief.
On the Chinese came. GIs fired bazookas into their own trucks in their own camp and machine-gunned Chinese by the light of the fires. Warplanes dropped napalm, incinerating hundreds of Chinese.
For days, the Third Battalion fought off mass charges of Chinese. They ransacked bodies for weapons and bullets when they ran low.
By that time Kapaun and Anderson had set up an aid station in a sandbagged dugout.
The GI perimeter shrank. Several soldiers who had escaped said their last view of Kapaun came when the American perimeter had shrunk to only about fifty yards across; the men in there were surrounded on all sides by thousands of Chinese. Kapaun was in the middle of it, unhit as of yet, and running from foxhole to foxhole to treat the wounded. He refused to stay in there, though: Lt. Walt Mayo saw Kapaun run three hundred yards outside the lines to drag stray wounded inside.
During one of those runs, Kapaun was captured and led away at gunpoint. But GIs rose up and fired at Kapaun's captors, allowing him to escape.
McGreevy heard officers yell at Kapaun to leave the battlefield.
"No", Kapaun called back.
The officers yelled again.
"No," Kapaun said, "my place is with the wounded." The priest looked as calm as he did at Mass.
By this time, Kapaun and Anderson had about forty wounded in the dugout, which lay exposed far outside the GI perimeter. The Chinese were digging trenches while advancing, protecting themselves as they moved in. McGreevy could see dirt flying out of the Chinese trenches.
Lt. William "Moose" McClain watched this and thought of Custer's Last Stand.
"The sergeant who had heard that first birdcall now lay in a ditch not far from Kapaun's aid station. Miller's ankle had been shattered by a grenade. He had spent hours playing dead.
Once in a while, when a group of Chinese got close, he tossed a grenade, then played dead again. When he ran out of grenades, a nearby wounded GI threw him a few more and Miller tossed them at the Chinese.
The Chinese were all around him now, shooting at the shrinking perimeter. Miller pulled a dead enemy body on top of himself. Soon an enemy soldier sat down in the ditch, his boot touching Miller's arm.
By then, the Chinese had crept near the dugout where Kapaun and Anderson tended the wounded; they fired mortar rounds in there, killing some of the wounded.
Surrender seemed like suicide. The GIs had heard stories of atrocities in Korea. Kapaun had written a friend weeks before that "the Reds were not taking prisoners. So we resolved to fight them to the finish because we would not have a chance if we chose to surrender."
But in the dugout now, Kapaun made a bold move: He approached a captured and wounded Chinese officer. He said he would surrender and appeal to Chinese humanity.
That officer yelled outside. The Chinese stopped shooting at the dugout. They took Kapaun and fifteen or so of the wounded who could walk as prisoners. They also agreed not to shoot the rest of the wounded.
The Miracle of Father Kapaun
by Wenzl & Heying
Anderson thought Kapaun's negotiations saved forty lives in the dugout.
Kapaun, under guard, stepped out of the dugout, over dead men piled three high. Down by the road, he saw an enemy rifleman take aim at a GI lying in a ditch.
That rifleman had found Miller hiding under a dead body. He put his rifle muzzle to Miller's head; Miller thought the muzzle looked big enough to crawl into. He would die now. Then he heard footsteps. So did the soldier about to kill him. The soldier, distracted, looked toward the dugout, his rifle still touching Miller's forehead. Miller turned to look.
They saw an American officer walking toward them. He was tall, skinny and unarmed, and he walked as calmly as a man about to pay his grocery bill. Kapaun had walked away from his captors, in the middle of a battle, risking a bullet in the back. But his captors held their fire.
Kapaun walked to the rifleman and shoved him aside, brushing the rifle barrel away from Miller's head with his arm.
"Let me help you up", he said. His voice was calm. He got Miller up on one foot; then helped him onto his back.
Miller turned around to look. The soldier who had wanted to shoot him aimed his rifle but did not fire. He looked puzzled. With Miller on his back, Kapaun walked toward the Chinese who had taken him prisoner at the dugout. Miller waited for death. But his would-be executioner just let him go.
"He didn't know what to do", Miller said. "Father Kapaun had that effect on those guys."
Miller, with his arms around Kapaun's skinny shoulders, wondered how far the priest could carry him.
Are you hooked — I am. I’m going to order this book and read it. WOW!
The articles posted on this Chaplain getting the MOH must be in the dozens now.
This is more about his story. Your point being.....?
Yes, this is a must-read.
You may be interested in this.
Medal of Honor for US Army chaplain Father Kapaun
Army chaplain to get Medal of Honor posthumously (Fr Kapaun)
Chaplain Fr. Emil Kapaun: The Good Thief
Chaplain gets Medal of Honor 62 years after death (Outstanding story)
New: "The Miracle of Father Kapaun: Priest, Soldier and Korean War Hero"
Students Try to Banish Catholic Chaplain >From Campus for Anti-Gay Stance
Archbishop Broglio Delivers Homily of Thanksgiving for Service and Dedication of Pope Benedict XVI
Father Emil Kapaun to be Awarded Medal of Honor
New auxiliary bishop for military archdiocese, Bishop-designate Robert J. Coyle
February 3rd - Four Chaplain's Day
We Have to Go Where The Suffering and Dying Are [Military Chaplains]
We See the Lord in Combat - Remembering Servant of God Father Vincent Capodanno
Lawmakers Claim Air Force Culture Becoming 'Hostile Towards Religion'
Get in Line or Resign Admiral Tells Military Chaplain
A Halo and a Medal for Emil Kapaun?
Prison Mates Promote Cause of Heroic Korean War Priest
Recognition Finally for a Warrior Priest's Heroics
ACTION ITEM ALERT! Pres. Obama, through a minion, attacks Catholic chaplains once again
Airborne Forces Priests Will Make Parachute Jumps During Their Training [Russia]
Religious Speech in the Military: Freedoms and Limitations
Soldier, Chaplain, Shepherd (Auxiliary Bishop Rick Spencer of the U.S. Archdiocese for Military)
Catholics Seek to Boost Number of Priests Serving as Chaplains
Catholic Chaplain Finds UK Troops in Afghanistan Hungering For Religion
U.S. troops in Afghanistan
Cross removed at base in Afghanistan
Mass During Wartime
The Traditional Latin Mass -- in Afghanistan
Uncle Sam attracts more (Catholic) military chaplains
Evangelical Chaplains Refuse to Marry Gay Couples on Military Bases
Over 2,000 Evangelical, Orthodox Chaplains Join Catholics in Opposing Pentagon on Same-Sex Marriage
2,000 Evangelical, Orthodox Chaplains Join Catholics in Opposing Pentagon Directive on SSM
No Same-Sex Weddings at West Point's Catholic Chapel, Says Military Archdiocese
Conflict between Pentagon and Catholic military chaplains brews over dont ask, dont tell
The (Catholic) Church's Noblest at Ground Zero
More men asking about becoming military chaplains
Catholic Caucus: Fr. Emil Kapaun: The Good Thief
Catholic Military Chaplains: America's Forgotten Heroes (Ecumenical)
Fr. Emil Kapaun Beatification Cause Heads to Rome [US Army Chaplain]
Two US Soldier Priests
Chaplain Groups Ask Military to Create Religious Liberty Protections
Australian Padre helps deployed soldiers tackle life challenges (Former SAS soldier turns chaplain)
Army says chaplain is first killed in action since 1970
Army Chaplain Dies in Afghanastan
With God in Iraq: A Day in the Life of a Military Chaplain
Soldier's Death Led Catholic Priest to Become Chaplain
Mass at National Shrine to honor Servant of God and heroic Navy chaplain
Prison chaplain remembers ("Behind the Walls with the Man Behind the Stole")
"Thanks God... and Thanks Mom" (Senate chaplain recalls his mom's amazing last day on earth)
Priest a wartime legend (Most decorated chaplain in Canadian army history dies at 106)
Catholic Navy chaplain shares story of Iraqi conversion (from 12/04/07)
What point, it was a simple post.
Eleven posts and yours is the only negative one. No thanks — you made your point.
I didn’t know you were against Korean War Heros.
Don’t try to personalize things by creating attacks out of thin air and going after a poster searching for a fight, there was nothing negative in that simple post.
Here is a TV episode from the 50s about him.
Thanks for the link.
From a simple mind that always feels compelled to act like the proverbial turd in the punchbowl.
You just described yourself and your post, a pure nasty post, for no reason other than it seems to be what you do.
You’re too obtuse to be an idiot.
This is freerepublic, not your little anger bar, lighten up friend.
This is the kind of man that Obama does not want in the military filling soldiers with hope and love of God.
Thanks for the ping, Salvation.
Miracles or no miracles, a Christian who picks lice off of others so they don’t succumb to disease has my vote as a holy man.
I can’t believe this military person is belittling another military person.
Have you read the book?
Thanks for stopping by.
No I have not, just the article above and others like it.
You can’t just make things up, for instance that ridiculous post.