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All this praise from his fellow prisoners was recognized officially by a grateful government. On Sept. 2, 1950, Chaplain Kapaun was awarded the Bronze Star Medal, and on Aug. 18, 1951, the Distinguished Service Cross. Both awards were for extraordinary heroism in action in Korea.
On Oct. 18, 1952, the Most Rev. Mark K. Carroll, Bishop of the Diocese of Wichita, offered Mass in the boyhood church of Father Kapaun at Pilsen. The large church of St. John was filled to capacity. Two army chaplains from Fort Riley assisted. The parents of the hero-priest insisted that the citations be given to Bishop Carroll. “The Bishop should have them,” they said. “We gave our son to the diocese.”
Immediately after the Mass, Lt. Col. George F. Schwartz of Salina, in the name of the United States government, presented the two medals to Bishop Carroll, and read the following citations for bravery:
HEADQUARTERS 1ST CAVALRY DIVISION
Sept. 2, 1950
AWARD OF THE BRONZE STAR MEDAL — By direction of the President, under the provisions of Executive Order 9419, and pursuant to the authority contained in AR 600-45, the Bronze Star Medal with V device for heroic achievement in connection with military operations against an enemy of the United States is awarded the following named officer:
CHAPLAIN (CAPT.) EMIL J. KAPAUN 0558217, Chaplain Corps, United States Army, a member of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, displayed heroism in action against the enemy near Kumchon, Korea, on Aug. 2, 1950.
Chaplain Kapaun received information that there was a wounded man in an exposed position on the left flank of the first battalion who could not be removed as there were no litter bearers available. Chaplain Kapaun, together with another officer, immediately proceeded to the front lines where he contacted the battalion commander in order to obtain the approximate location of the wounded man. With total disregard for personal safety, Chaplain Kapaun and his companion went after the wounded man.
The entire route to the wounded soldier was under intense enemy machinegun and small arms fire. However, Chaplain Kapaun successfully evacuated the soldier, thereby saving his life. This heroic action on the part of Chaplain Kapaun reflects great credit upon himself and the military service.
By command of Maj. Gen. Gay.
HEADQUARTERS, EIGHTH UNITED STATES ARMY, KOREA
AWARD OF THE DISTINGUISHED SERVICE CROSS — By direction of the President, under the provisions of the Act of Congress, approved July 9, 1918, and pursuant to authority contained in AR 600-45, the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism in action is awarded in the name of the Commander-in-Chief, Far East, to the following named officer:
CHAPLAIN (CAPT.) EMIL J. KAPAUN, 0558217, United States Army. Chaplain Kapaun, while a member of Headquarters Company, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in the vicinity of Unsan, Korea, on Nov. 1 and 2, 1950.
“On the afternoon of Nov. 1, and continuing through the following 36 hours, the regiment was subjected to a relentless, fanatical attack by hostile troops attempting to break through the perimeter defense. In the early morning hours, the enemy succeeded in breaking through the defense, and hand-to-hand combat ensued in the immediate vicinity of the command post where the aid station had been set up.
Chaplain Kapaun, with complete disregard for his personal safety, calmly moved among the wounded men, giving them medical aid and easing their fears. His courageous manner inspired all those present and many men who might otherwise have fled in panic were encouraged by his presence and remained to fight the enemy.
As the battle progressed, the number of wounded increased greatly and it became apparent that many of the men would be unable to escape the enemy encirclement. Finally, at dusk on Nov. 2, the remaining able-bodied men were ordered to attempt to break through the surrounding enemy.
At this time, although fully aware of the great danger, Chaplain Kapaun voluntarily remained behind and when last seen was administering medical treatment and rendering religious rites wherever needed. The extraordinary heroism displayed by Chaplain Kapaun in this action reflects great credit on himself and is in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service. Entered the federal service from Kansas.
By command of Gen. Van Fleet.
Bishop Carroll then delivered the sermon, which is given here as it expressed so aptly and touchingly the sentiments of all who revered Father Kapaun:
We assemble this morning in St. John’s Church, Pilsen, to receive from the United States government and the distinguished representatives of the armed forces, two citations and medals recognizing the unusual heroism of Chaplain Emil Kapaun in the present Korean conflict.
It is with a heavy heart and a troubled soul that I accept these deserved honors from the President of the United States. To be sure, we would rather have Chaplain Emil Kapaun in our midst to receive in person these magnificent testimonials from a grateful government.
We know that these awards are for Father Kapaun, not for us, though we are indirectly honored ourselves. It is therefore an unforgettable privilege for me, in behalf of Father Kapaun’s beloved parents, to accept these significant awards.
As you all know, Father Kapaun disappeared on the Korean War front on Nov. 2, 1950. No word has reached us about his safety except that we know that he was captured alive by the Chinese Communists. Almost worse than certain death is the unspeakable sorrow and the ever-lengthening anxiety and worry of his beloved parents. Such waiting, such sorrowing is untouchable — for no human ministration can assuage that sorrow; no mere words, however elegant, can comfort; no rewards, even those as noble and precious as received this morning, can compensate parents even for the temporary loss of their son.
We, dear people, are the beneficiaries of the heroism of our fighting men on the battle front. We salute today, reverently, all who have made the supreme sacrifice, for they have died as Bancroft, the historian, reminds us, “to set deep the pillars in the structures of our national life.” We salute, likewise, those devoted soldiers of Christ, our chaplains, who likewise have laid down their lives because of devotion to duty and because of their solemn dedication to the principles of truth, justice and peace.
Our own tears and prayers have ennobled, these past two years, the awards given to Father Kapaun today. These testimonials of a grateful government and the military are, as we know, a petty recompense for human life, still they are the only eminent recognition that can be given by the president of the United States. I am sure that these glorious honors will comfort and console, in some small measure, the devoted parents of our missing Chaplain.
It is futile to attempt the eulogy of a young priest who dies at the hands of the enemy or who disappears on a battle front. I shall not attempt such an encomium — the eloquent facts are more than sufficient to tell the challenging story, the selfless motives, the radiant glory of Father Kapaun’s meritorious service.
How can I describe his heroic actions which were responsible for his capture? Father Kapaun was a simple, humble priest and had the spirit of his Divine Master. Our dear Lord came into the world to seek out the lost sheep of His Father’s flock. Father Kapaun entered the Army of the United States, not once, but twice, as a Chaplain with a precisely parallel intention.
Christ’s mission was completed in His death at the hands of His enemies on Calvary. Father Kapaun disappeared in Korea under the fierce fire of the enemy. He stayed with his men when he could have escaped, but he loved his men — the sheep of his flock — and no sermon he ever preached could tell more effectively his appreciation of his office as a priest.
Father Kapaun disappeared doing God’s work. We know that in prison when deprived by Communistic hatred of his priestly duties, he knelt with his men to say the rosary. His agile mind, his generous heart were one with Christ, his entire saintly personality thoroughly dedicated to the things of God.
It is hard to eulogize someone whose spontaneous heroism is the perfect tribute to himself, to his priesthood, and to the use he made of it. So also, it is hard to reconcile the disappearance of Father Kapaun who was so pleasing to God, so inspiring to his men, and so universally beloved by both the clergy and the laity.
“It is easy to understand the grief of his parents and of the good people of Pilsen who loved and admired their own native son. For almost two years, we have been sorrowing and waiting for news of his whereabouts.
At the same time, our sorrow has given way to prayerful reflection; our grief has been assuaged by the pride in the graphic story of Father Kapaun’s devotion to duty. What confidence we have, even though Father Kapaun be dead, in the assurance of his eternal salvation. What sacred joy do we have in the knowledge that his brief priesthood was far from being in vain — rather was so perfectly fulfilled.
These are thoughts filled with unction to console Mr. and Mrs. Kapaun who have been so conspicuous in their love for the Catholic priesthood, who themselves have constituted a truly Christian family. They graciously and generously gave their son to the service of God, and to me it is a great consolation to realize that Father Kapaun disappeared on the Korean War Front at almost the very age which ended the glorious career of Jesus Christ, the eternal Priest.
Many of our clergy labor for decades of years. We try to do our best in daily duty; we try to be good men, faithful and blameless, yet when the years have passed, we are quite certain that we have been mediocre in our lasting achievements. Father Kapaun is ordained, he labors only ten years, then suddenly, in glorious identity with Christ, offers his life for his men.
Strangely enough, people term such a sacrifice a tragedy. In purely mundane terms, perhaps it seems so, but viewed by eternal standards, his lot is enviable. Time is in God’s hands — His service is ours. Chaplain Emil Kapaun was the subject of God’s special love. He went forth a young priest — happy, zealous, with a young priest’s hunger for souls — and at the height of all this, he disappears, perhaps to suffer, to die. What Christian soul will not bless the good God for the grace of his obedience even unto death?
Finally, let me share with you, dear people, and especially with Emil’s beloved parents, a heartwarming tribute to him from a soldier. This eulogy, given gladly by one of the boys who loved him, is the highest praise we can offer Emil Kapaun on this day when the United States Military confers upon him these honors in absentia.
Bishop Carroll then read the letter from Pvt. Ernest Ritter, to be found in full elsewhere. This was the first letter received with the heartening news that Father Kapaun was captured alive. The bishop continued:
Father Emil, I, your bishop, salute you on this day when your devotion to duty is so rightfully recognized. Wherever you are, you have our love and prayers and we thank you for your majestic example and your unswerving allegiance to the ideals of your priesthood. Wherever you are, whether dead or alive, we know that you are in God’s arms.
If you are dead, your priestly soul is already in heaven, for you were an angel among men. If you are still alive, and we hope you are — for that has been our prayer during these several years — we know that you are safe, because you have the rosary of our Lady in your hands.
Worthy army officers, I thank you for your presence here today acting in the dual capacity as representative of the military authorities and the federal government. Yours is a sad mission, but the honors you have conferred on Chaplain Kapaun, are hallowed by your own personal tribute to the valor of one of your comrades. The Honors of today shall be lovingly cherished and guarded by the Diocese of Wichita.
The memory of Father Kapaun shall be kept green in our garden of remembrance. Together we will pray for him — for the cause of peace — begging God’s benediction upon our fallen and missing soldiery. May their rewards find fulfillment in Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.” Amen.