Army chaplain receives high praise from president, country

| April 9, 2013 | 0 Comments

Sgt. Christopher Huddleston
U.S. Army-Pacific Public Affairs

FORT SHAFTER — President Barack Obama awarded a long overdue posthumous honor to an Army chaplain in a ceremony at the White House, April 11.

Chaplain (Capt.) Emil Kapaun received the Medal of Honor for distinguishing himself by conspicuous gallantry and indomitable courage above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy as a chaplain in 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, at Unsan, Korea, and as a prisoner of war from November 1950 until his death in May 1951 at a prison camp in Pyoktong, North Korea.

He is the seventh chaplain to receive the Medal of Honor.

Chaplain (Capt.) Emil Kapaun. (Photo courtesy U.S. Army-Pacific Public Affairs)

Chaplain (Capt.) Emil Kapaun. (Photo courtesy U.S. Army-Pacific Public Affairs)

According to a November 2012 article by retired Lt. Col. William Latham Jr., Kapaun spent much of his time on the front lines, running from foxhole to foxhole, praying with Soldiers, carrying the wounded to safety and administering last rites to those who could not be saved.

“I have been on the front lines for eight days,” wrote Kapaun in a letter dated Aug. 7, 1950. “We were machine-gunned, hit by mortars and tanks. Three times we escaped with our lives … God has been good to me. Others have not been so fortunate. There are many horrors in war. A fellow can only stand so much.”

In the early morning of Nov. 2, 1950, Kapaun woke to the sounds of bugles and shouts alerting the camp to 20,000 Chinese troops attacking from the surrounding hills. He and Pvt. Patrick Schuler drove a Jeep toward the fighting and collected wounded Soldiers, evacuating them to the south.

Kapaun told Schuler, “Stay with the Jeep and say your prayers. I’ll be back.”

Schuler never saw Kapaun again.

Other Soldiers from 3rd Bn. saw Kapaun running between foxholes, dragging the injured to safety, praying over the dying and hearing confessions while the bullets flew.

Though the men shouted for him to escape, Kapaun refused to leave and continued to care for his troops.

After days of combat, Kapaun was captured while dragging a wounded Soldier to safety. Lt. Walt Mayo saw Kapaun being led away at gunpoint and ordered his men to fire, rescuing Kapaun.

Even then, Kapaun refused several orders to leave the battlefield, saying, “My place is with the wounded.”

Kapaun stayed with the wounded in a makeshift aid station in a sandbagged dugout long after it lay outside the defensive perimeter. Chinese soldiers soon surrounded the aid station.

The wounded Soldiers in the aid station were prepared to fight to the death, thinking the Chinese army was taking no prisoners. However, Kapaun negotiated surrender with a captured Chinese officer, who took Kapaun and those wounded still able to walk as prisoners and agreed not to shoot the remaining wounded in the dugout.

As they marched under guard, Kapaun saw a Chinese soldier with his rifle pressed to an American Soldier’s head. Kapaun walked away from his captors, shoved the Chinese rifleman aside and helped Sgt. Herb Miller stand on his one good foot.

Kapaun then carried Miller on his back (Miller had a shattered ankle) and returned to the Chinese soldiers who had taken him prisoner at the dugout.

After marching their prisoners more than 85 miles over three weeks of freezing Korean winter, the Chinese brought Kapaun and his fellow Soldiers to the prison camp where he would eventually meet his end.

Kapaun spent the months in captivity much as he did on the front lines — lifting spirits, praying with Soldiers and caring for the wounded.

In addition to boosting morale, Kapaun organized the men in the camp to steal food and medical supplies from their captors. He also snuck from the officer section of the camp to the enlisted area, to help the Soldiers there, and resisted Chinese attempts at forced indoctrination to communism, the tenants of which strictly forbade religion of any kind.

In this anti-religious environment, Kapaun held an Easter sunrise service for 80 American officers. His sermon focused on forgiveness, especially of one’s enemies.

According to William Maher’s 1997 biography of Kapaun, “A Shepherd in Combat Boots,” not long after the Easter service, Kapaun’s injuries and the stresses of POW life began to catch up with him. He developed a blood clot in his leg, severe dysentery and pneumonia.

Despite efforts by his fellow POWs, including a fake epidemic of dysentery to obtain medicine, Kapaun died of his illness.

Faithful to the end, Kapaun reminded his friends, who were allowed to carry him to a prisoner hospital the POWs called the “Death House,” to forgive their enemies, and offered a few last bits of advice on personal issues each had.

In addition to receiving the Medal of Honor, Kapaun also is the subject of a Vatican investigation for sainthood.

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