About Father Emil J Kapaun

Emil Joseph Kapaun was born to Enos and Elizabeth Kapaun on April 20, 1916. The pious parents of Bohemian extract lived on a farm three miles southwest of Pilsen, Kansas. The elements found in their home, church and the parochial schools he attended, clearly point to how this Kansas farm boy became an idol, hero and saint to men of every creed and calling,

As a small boy, Emil often played priest at a homemade altar. He would gather wild flowers to decorate it. Emil’s desire to become a priest was known by his Pastor, Fr. Sklenar, and it was through his care and help that Emil’s Catholic education continued after his graduation from Pilsen High School in May of 1930.

The early depression years saw Emil studying classical and philosophy courses at Conception College, Conception, Missouri, from where he was graduated in June of 1936. So it was again that Emil’s Pastor, together with the Bishop, saw to the substantial financial end of Emil’s studies at Kendrick Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri, where he was ordained in June of 1940.

Fr. Kapaun returned to his parish in Pilsen after ordination and became assistant to Fr. Sklenar. He was also the Auxiliary Chaplain at Herington Air Base nearby Pilsen. In December of 1943, Fr. Kapaun was appointed Pastor to replace Fr. Sklenar now 70 years plus who resigned. Because he was raised in the parish for which he was now pastor, Fr. Kapaun felt that he was in good conscience, a great moral obstacle to those friends and relatives there who he thought were superior to himself both in age and education. He therefore asked for and received permission from his Bishop to volunteer for the Army and a Chaplaincy. He was relieved of his pastorate at Pilsen in July of 1944.

Fr. Kapaun began his Soldiering for God at Camp Wheeler, Georgia, in October of 1944. He and one other Chaplain served some 19,000 service men and women. His stay there was a brief one. His shipping orders were cut and he was sent to the India - Burma Theater in April of 1945. There he would travel by air and jeep over 2,000 miles to have Mass for the troops at the Forward Areas. Fr. Kapaun noted in a letter to his Bishop how happy he was and that his contact with the local Missionaries was most edifying and uplifting, especially when seeing what sacrifices they made to do their work. He felt a closeness with God, working with the missionaries and the poor that they served. The Chaplains, together with the troops, erected a church and school for the Priests and Nuns. They also gave them financial support.

Fr. Kapaun was promoted to Captain in January of 1946. Thereafter many troops were returned stateside and Fr. Kapaun returned in May of 1946.

After a short vacation, he was appointed temporary administrator of St. John Church, Spearville, Kansas. The Bishop wanted the Veteran Chaplains to get a degree in education to qualify them as accredited teachers in their diocesan and public high schools. The Bishop, upon Fr. Kapaun’s discharge from the Army in July of 1946, approved his entrance into Catholic University, Washington D.C.. He was graduated with an M.A. in education in February of 1948.

In April of 1948, the Bishop appointed him pastor of Timken, Kansas. Again, in good conscience and knowing the coming crisis in Korea, he believed that he should offer himself for work in the Armed Forces. So it was, that in September of 1948, he re-enlisted in the Army. He resumed his Chaplaincy at Fort Bliss, El Paso, Texas. Fr. Kapaun left his parents and Pilsen for the last time in December of 1949.

He sailed for Yokohama, Japan, in January of 1950. He was stationed near Mt. Fuji, Japan, until alerted into combat in July of 1950. In July of 1950, Fr. Kapaun's unit, the 35th Brigade from Ft. Bliss landed in South Korea during a big invasion. He was constantly on the move northward until his capture by Chinese Communists in November of 1950. His main complaint was lack of sleep for several weeks at a time. He was constantly administering to the dead and dying while performing baptisms, hearing first confessions for 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, 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 of 1950 just before his capture in November of 1950.

The following is a general narrative from the many reports of Fr. Kapaun's ordeal as a prisoner of war given by many repatriated American soldiers after their release from prison camps. 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 a lot of men to become good Catholics."

Reports received noted that Fr. Kapaun’s feet had become badly frozen, but that he continued to administer to the sick and wounded. He continuously went out under heavy mortar and shelling to carry or pull into holes wounded and or dying soldiers at personal risk of being captured or killed.

Many accounts were given as to the many creature comforts he provided the many of his comrades of the 8th Cavalry Regiment during imprisonment. They were both spiritual and physical. He provided endless hours of prayer and what nourishment he could find to all he could to keep them from starving to death.

Fr. Kapaun, himself, weakened as months passed on. He managed to lead Easter sunrise service. He was so weak that the prison guards took him to the hospital. There he would die from pneumonia on May 23, 1951.

In recognition of his heroic service, Fr. Kapaun received the Distinguished Service Cross and on April 11, 2013 President Barack Obama presented Ray Kapaun with the Medal of Honor awarded posthumously to Chaplain (Captain) Emil J. Kapaun, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House. Chaplain Kapaun was awarded the medal for his extraordinary heroism while serving with the 3d Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy at Unsan, Korea and as a prisoner of war.

On May 15, 2013 Ray Kapaun, nephew of Fr Emil Kapaun, visited Council 3744 while on a trip to Southern California.  Ray shared some inspiring words to members present for our annual Council Awards dinner and then shared with us Fr Kapaun's actual Medal of Honor.

Our Council was deeply honored that Ray Kapaun took the time to share this symbol of our nation's gratitude for the service of our Council patron. 

The given account of Fr. Kapaun’s life as told in the story of Chaplain Kapaun (Patriot Priest of the Korean Conflict) by Father Arthur Tonne. Fr. Tonne states that "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 Father 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."