Servant of God Fr. Emil Kapaun
Servant of God Fr. Emil Kapaun was an American military chaplain who served heroically on the battlefield as well as inside of a POW camp in North Korea until his death. While a POW, he cared for other prisoners bodily with stolen food and medicine, and spiritually as a priest.
Servant of God Chaplain Emil Kapaun’s legacy as a light to prisoners of war and soldiers on the battlefield is vast. His cause for sainthood is currently being investigated due to a number of possible miracles attributed to his intercession as well as the possibility of his dying a martyr.
Emil was born in 1916 on a farm in Pilsen, Kansas. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1940 and remained local, serving in his home parish, St. John Nepomucene, in Pilsen. In 1944, he decided to enter the army as part of the Chaplain Corps. He served in India and Burma during the end of WWII. In 1949, after a brief break to earn a degree back in Kansas, he re-enlisted and was sent to Japan. Kapaun was assigned as chaplain for the 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. Not long after his assignment, Fr. Kapaun and the 1st Cavalry Division were ordered to Korea to help repel North Korea’s invasion of South Korea.
During grueling, sleepless months of battle, Fr. Kapaun became known as someone who would risk his own life to save others on the battlefield. He ministered to his division by praying with them, offering confessions and baptisms, and by saying Mass from an improvised altar he set up on the front end of a Jeep. During this time, as the United Nation forces progressed northward, Fr. Kapaun and his troops were surprised by a contingent of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army — the PVA.
A number of the troops were able to retreat and escape, Fr. Kapaun was encouraged to go with them, but he stayed behind with the 800 men of his 3rd Battalion during the Battle of Unsan. He personally saved the lives of more than 40 soldiers during that battle. He and the others were taken prisoner by the PVA and marched over 80 miles to a prison camp. During this time, he helped others carry the injured among them despite this being forbidden by their captors. They were eventually held at Prison Camp 5 at Pyoktong, North Korea.
During his time as a prisoner of war, Fr. Kapaun was known by those he was imprisoned with as someone who could be relied on as a caretaker of all. The morale in the camp was awful, as many as 2 dozen men would die on a daily basis of malnutrition, disease, and the cold, but, Fr. Kapaun spent every waking hour doing his best to serve those he was with and raise moral in the camp. He was even known to steal food and medicine for those starving or too sick to care for themselves.
Despite developing pneumonia, dysentery, and a blood clot, Fr. Kapaun was still saying Mass and serving the other POW’s until he was physically too weak to do so. He died of malnutrition and pneumonia on May 23, 1951, and was buried by friends up on a hill marked with stones, away from the mass graves others were dumped in.
For his bravery and service, Fr. Kapaun was awarded a Medal of Honor, a Bronze Star Medal, a Purple Heart, and the highest military recognition awarded by the Republic of Korea — The Taegeuk Order of Military Merit. These are only some of the many awards he was given while alive and posthumously.
In 1992 Pope John Paul II named him a Servant of God and, although the miracles attributed to his intercession are still under investigation, in January 2022, it was announced that the Vatican was considering whether to declare Fr. Kapaun a martyr for the Catholic faith. If this title is granted to him, it would greatly speed up his canonization.
Lord Jesus, In the midst of the folly of war, your servant, Chaplain Emil Kapaun, spent himself in total service to you on the battlefields and in the prison camps of Korea, until his death at the hands of his captors. We now ask you, Lord Jesus, if it be your will, to make known to all the world the holiness of Chaplain Kapaun and the glory of his complete sacrifice for you by signs of miracles and peace. In your name, Lord, we ask, for you are the source of peace, the strength of our service to others, and our final hope.
(Prayer Source: www.FatherKapaun.org