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Was Here first recognized this forgotten hero from a forgotten war
last year in 2012. Father Kapaun, like other forgotten heroes of
this war waited more than 60 years to be remembered. On 11 April
2013. President Obama will present the Medal of Honor posthumously
to Father Kapaun through his nephew Ray Kapaun. He is the only seventh
Army Chaplain to receive the Medal of Honor since the first in 1861.
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Patrick A. Tillery July 2012
A forgotten place in freezing North
Korea 1 November 1950.
A young Roman Catholic Chaplain celebrated
four masses in his 3rd Battalion of the 8th Cavalry Regiment then crawled
in his pup tent near Unsan for long overdue rest. He was a veteran of
WWII in Burma and India and volunteered for Korea.
Though he never fired a shot, Father Kapaun saw as much mean action
as any man in his unit.
BBC News Magazine
He and his 3rd battalion bedded down in apparent safety; the North
Koreans were on the run after the long push up from Pusan. With
good reason, most thought the war was as good as won and they would
be going home soon . . . maybe in time for Christmas. Douglas MacArthur's
message passed mouth to mouth: "Get us to the Yalu by Thanksgiving
and you will all be home for Christmas." The only possible
concern was . . . would the Chinese enter in war? The generals had
already insisted that the Chinese would not; so, to sleep.
There were, however, clues that foreshadowed what was about to
happen. A patrol went into the hills and listened to enemy officers
on their radio. When asked, a South Korean replied that he didn't
know what the enemy was saying because they were speaking Chinese.
Intelligence officers scoffed. Other patrols reported that civilians
saw "tens of thousands Chinese" in the surrounding hills.
Intelligence officers scoffed.
On November 2nd the Chaplain didn't
know it but the 1st and 2nd battalions were already being overrun.
They, the 3rd, were next. It was in a pitch black early morning
darkness when they heard a new kind of noise that sounded like a
bird call. "That's no bird call! We are in for it!"*
Soon they saw hundreds of figures moving
|.A bugle blew far too
close, and another, then strange ghostly calls from sheep horns blown
by Chinese. Machine guns and mortars soon began firing. Weird music
broke out along with war songs from bugles and thousands of charging
troops. These troops were not pajama clad "volunteers" as
China claimed but well equipped, well-trained regular troops; battle
hardened by war with the Japanese and a bitter civil war. Suddenly
alert, GIs fired flares into the night sky. OMG! The could then see
twenty thousand Chinese soldiers charging right at them.
The young Chaplain, now wide awake, was busily running from foxhole
to berm dragging wounded back and saying prayers over the dying, hearing
coming in mass charges. This type of charge
was given up by Europeans by WWI and the Japanese by Iwo Jima. But unlike
Iwo Jima where the Japanese no longer had the manpower to lose the
fire,all the while dressing wounds. Men screamed at him to
run, but he ignored them. "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." He called out the sacred words in English,
Even as late as November 4th
after the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd were overrun and while the 8th Cavalry
was being crushed, reports from the 8th about Chinese were met with
"There are no Chinese in North Korea."
The 1st and the 2nd withdrew
South. Most made it as 800 men of 3rd Battalion covered their withdrawal
and then were overrun. For three more days the 3rd fought
off attacks. They searched all bodies for more ammo and weapons.
Close air support killed thousands but still the Chinese kept
captured, wounded Chinese officer. He offered
surrender and appealed to Chinese humanity. The officer yelled outside.
The Chinese stopped shooting at the dugout. They took him and 15 or so of
the wounded and agreed not to shoot the rest. His negotiations probably
saved 40 lives in the dugout.
At one point the Chaplain, while saving the wounded was actually
captured. On one command, though, enough GIs rose and killed enough
of the captors holding him that he escaped. He was told to leave
the battlefield but refused. "My place is with the wounded."*
They all had heard stories of atrocities, so few considered surrender.
The Chaplain had written "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 . . . "*
He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal in
September 1950 even before this battle and his capture, but his
heroism was just beginning. The Chaplain and a doctor set up an
aid station in a dugout but all was already lost. Chinese were
within feet of the dugout when the Chaplain made a bold move: he
spoke to a
Most of the survivors of the 3rd
were captured. They thought this was the end and that they'd be shot now.
The enemy in Korea frequently murdered prisoners. Korean winters are bitter
cold where temperatures reach 40 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Even so,
the remnants of the 3rd survived a death march. All noted that anyone
who couldn't walk and was left behind would be shot. The Chaplain carried
one all the way.
crucifix stumbled out. They had risked their
lives in a final act of defiance to bring those items.
In the POW camp the Chaplain
became the de-facto leader. His efforts managed to make his camp
have fewer deaths than the other camps at the time. Their only hope
for survival came from the Chaplain's firm teaching "Steal or
starve!" He would say they should pray to Dismas, patron saint
of thieves, the "good thief" crucified next to Jesus.
"Maybe I shouldn't say it," O'Connor (one of the survivors)
said in a wire-service story that appeared in The Wichita Beacon,
"but he was the best food thief we had."*
The Chaplain led secret prayer
groups. If they caught him, which they did sometimes, it meant time
in a punishment hole, or standing on ice for hours while stripped
to the skin. All the time, he dug latrines, mediated disputes, gave
away his own food, raised morale among the prisoners, and smuggled
dysentery drugs to the aid station.
Sadly, the Chaplain developed
a blood clot in his leg, dysentery, and pneumonia. Emil Joseph Kapaun
(April 20, 1916 May 23, 1951) died in much the same painful
way as many of his beloved flock at the prison camp in Pyoktong,
North Korea. He was buried in a mass grave near the Yalu River.
Have you ever heard of him?
He has been nominated for the Medal of Honor and is in line to be
made a saint by the Vatican.
The forgotten saint of a forgotten
The story of Father Kapaun
and the quest to elevate him to sainthood began in September 1953.
When prisoners who knew him were released at the end of the Korean
War, a band of scroungy looking Americans carrying Emil Kapaun's
gold ciborium and a rugged wooden
Upon reaching freedom, they went
directly to foreign correspondents covering the prisoner release and said
they had a world-class story to tell. Within hours, wire services were
sending it worldwide: the story of Father Kapaun, along with photos of
Nardella, Joseph O'Connor and Felix McCool holding the crucifix.
(Senate Bill 1867, Section 586) contains an
authorization and a request to the President to award the Medal of Honor
to Emil Kapaun posthumously for acts of valor performed by him during the
Battle of Unsan on November 1 and 2, 1950 and while a prisoner of war until
his death on May 23, 1953 as a chaplain in the 8th Cavalry Regiment during
the Korean War.
They told how he'd had tobacco pipes shot out of his mouth as he
dragged wounded off battlefields. They said he saved men on the
Death March, washed the underwear of the sick, made pans out of
roofing tin, and stole food.
The Vatican is now examining whether a medical healing that took
place in Sedgwick County, Kansas, can be considered a miracle by
the Roman Catholic Church. See links below for other miracles being
considered by the Vatican. He is on the road to sainthood and would
be the third American-born saint. The Roman Catholic Church has
declared him a "Servant of God" and he is a candidate
In 2000, U.S. Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) began a campaign to award
the Medal of Honor to Kapaun. Prior to leaving office on 16 September
2009, Secretary of the Army Pete Geren sent Tiahrt a letter, agreeing
that Kapaun was worthy of the honor. Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also agreed.
The current version of the National Defense Authorization Act for
Fiscal Year 2012
Now you have heard of him! Remember
him as well as the other warriors in the Forgotten War, Korea! Thank a
Korean War vet. He has been waiting for it more than 60 years. To further
the cause, go to http://www.frkapaun.org/
Then go to http://www.change.org/petitions/kilroy-was-here-usps-stamp
and sign the petition to get a Kilroy Was Here commemorative stamp as
one last and lasting tribute to the men who fought the WWII and Korean
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