During the Korean War, Captain Emil Kapaun was the Catholic chaplain assigned to the 3rd Battalion of the 8th Cavalry. On November 1, 1950 the Feast of All Saints, Father Kapaun celebrated Mass for the soldiers in his battalion. In the minds of the troops the fighting was over. They lay in a cornfield talking about going home and about the victory parade.
Actual picture of the Mass
At midnight their plans exploded. The area held by 3,000 American soldiers was unexpectedly attacked by a force of more than 20,000 charging Chinese Communists.Arrow on Father Kapaun
Father Kapaun ran from foxhole to foxhole, dragging out the wounded and giving Last Rites to the dying. Over the sound of gunfire and explosions he heard confessions. Feverishly working beyond the American lines in “no mans land”, he actually stopped executions and negotiated with the enemy for the safety of wounded Americans.
He approached one foxhole where an American soldier lay with a Chinese soldier holding a gun to his head. Father Kapaun held out water in his hand, and, the Chinese soldier hesitated … puzzled. Father approached further, and, looked calmly at the enemy. He held out the water and the soldier took it and put down his gun.
The earlier thoughts about Christmas in America quickly evaporated and the Americans who were not killed became POW’s, including Father Kapaun. By daybreak the battle was over.
The march through North Korea to the border with China was brutal. Those wounded and unable to continue were shot dead. Father Kapaun picked up a wounded POW and began carrying him on his back. He implored others who were still in fair condition to do the same. Some followed. Many managed to make it alive to the prison camp.
Father Kapaun cared not for himself. He continued to care for the sick and wounded against the orders of his Chinese guards. He stole matches to light fires for warmth and cooking, searched for scraps of food, and picked lice from the hair of his fellow prisoners who were succumbing to the frigid temperatures and starvation diet.
He became an inspiration to the other POWs. The priest would preach openly to the men even though his captors ordered him not to do so. He would pray one-on-one with POW’s and some were even baptized. Prayer was banned and when Father Kapaun ignored it and prayed with his men his captors would strip him naked and make him stand on a block of ice for hours on end. It is hard to imagine enduring such cruelty,
On Easter Sunday 1951, the bedraggled starving prisoners saw a silhouetted figure standing alone, illuminated by the morning sun. As they approached they realized it was Father Kapaun. He was wearing his purple stole and holding a Roman Missal. Somehow he had received permission to hold an Easter Service. He could not say Mass but he read some Psalms and everyone recited out loud the prayers from Good Friday including the Stations of the Cross.
The men, gathered in the morning sun, on a small snow covered hill … some with threadbare boots and some with none … listened intently. Some wept. One, who had a magnificent tenor voice, began to sing the ‘Our Father’. It rang out clearly throughout the camp and the soldiers who were too badly wounded were able to hear it. Some, who have survived, tell of it in the book. The enemy did nothing. They hated Father Kapaun, and he bore the brunt of the torture. He was able to answer them back with a reasonable argument about God during the enforced propaganda lessons.
Father Kapaun, worn down from the horrendous conditions and suffering from his own wounds and poor treatment , died on March 23, 1951. He was credited with saving hundreds of lives.This was a Crucifix carved by an American soldier. He had never seen Father Kapaun, only heard about him. The Crucifix exists today. The marvel of it is that the face of Christ resembles Father and the soldier had never seen him. The crown is made of wire from the prison camp enclosure.
In 1993 he was declared a servant of God by Pope John Paul II. President Obama awarded him the Medal of Honor posthumously and the ceremony can be found on You Tube.
.This book is riveting. It tells the entire story … including many miracles which have occurred as a result of prayer to him. The book is available on Amazon.com ‘The Miracles of Father Kapaun’. That anyone survived that prison camp is a wonder!