• Last modified 2153 days ago (Aug. 1, 2013)


Chaplain receives posthumous recognition

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Since the day of his capture in November 1950, the only official report of Father Kapaun was “missing in action.” Hope that he was alive and that he would be among the exchanged prisoners flickered feebly until June of 1953 when his name failed to appear on the lists of those who returned from prison camps. On July 12, 1953, the Kapauns received the following letter from the War Department:

“Dear Mr. Kapaun:

“I am writing you concerning your son. Chaplain (Capt.) Emil J. Kapaun, who was reported missing in action in Korea on Nov. 2, 1950.

“Information has been received from several of the men recently repatriated following imprisonment in North Korea that Chaplain Kapaun died in May 1951 at Pyoktong, North Korea, while in the hands of the opposing forces. The cause of his death was not definitely known.

“The offices of the Quartermaster General, Washington, D.C., is responsible for furnishing information on recovery, identification, and disposition of the remains of the dead. It is customary for that office to communicate promptly with the next of kin upon receipt of definite information for the overseas command.

“I sincerely regret that this message must carry so much sorrow into your home and I hope that in time you may find sustaining comfort in knowing that he served his country honorably. My deepest sympathy is extended to you in your bereavement.”

Wm. E. Bergin
Major General, U.S.A.
Adjutant General of the Army

The grief-stricken parents forwarded the letter to Bishop Carroll, who immediately announced special services for the first gold-star priest of the diocese of Wichita. On July 29, 1953, His Excellency celebrated Solemn Pontifical Requiem Mass in the Cathedral of St. Mary, Wichita, Kan. More than 100 priests were present, together with a large number of Sisters and lay people, and a big delegation from Pilsen. Among them were Mr. and Mrs. Kapaun and their son, Eugene, with his wife.

A four-man color guard from the Wichita air base stood at attention in front of the catafalque. A choir of 12 priests sang the Mass. The bishop gave the absolution over the flag-draped catafalque, which was surmounted by symbols of the priesthood — the chalice, stole and missal. He then delivered a sermon on the priesthood and lauded Father Kapaun as a worthy representative of that exalted office.

On this occasion Bishop Carroll’s sermon was in part as follows:

“It was some 10 days ago that we were all shocked and saddened by the tragic news that Father Emil J. Kapaun was officially declared dead by the War Department. This young priest, as we remember, was captured by the Communists on Nov. 2, 1950, and has been listed as missing in action since that time.

“We had hoped against hope that Father Kapaun would be among the returning prisoners of war, but apparently his work was done and his brief heroic life as a priest and a soldier came to a dramatic end in a hospital somewhere in North Korea.

“Father Kapaun was, as we all well know, a good and holy priest — an apostle of love and the faithful captain of souls. He possessed a very attractive personality, a man apparently always in good humor, with a winning smile and a word of encouragement and kindness for everyone he met.

“He was ideally equipped to be a parish priest and was universally admired and loved by those he had served here in the Diocese of Wichita. Father Kapaun was not only an apostle of peace and love, but he was the valiant soldier who guarded the flock of Christ committed to his care, and he stood stalwart, always, for those divine truths to which his vocation was dedicated.

“After the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor, Father Kapaun generously volunteered his services to the Army.

“As a chaplain, he was held in high esteem by his fellow officers and the men he served, and because of his excellent record, was promoted to captain. Some few years ago. Father Kapaun, after having been returned to civilian life, volunteered again because he stated men in the Army needed a chaplain even more than the folks at home need a parish priest.

“Once a year, on Memorial Day, grateful Americans bless and pray for the souls of our military departed, but since Pearl Harbor every day in the calendar has become a Memorial Day as hourly our casualties increase. A soldier deserves our esteem and our prayers because when he joins the armed forces he has the virtual intention of making the supreme sacrifice, and surely Our Lord had the fallen soldier in mind when He said, ‘Greater love than this no man hath, than that a man lay down his life for his friends.’

“An army and a navy are essential to the defense of our country, and God has blessed these United States of America down through the years because when freedom is challenged there have responded the finest men in all the world — our American youth. The great Cardinal Mercier, beloved hero of the First World War, in a famous letter states specifically that every soldier who dies for truth and freedom and peace is a martyr in God’s eyes.

“This morning, in the Cathedral of St. Mary in Wichita, the clergy, religious, and family of Father Kapaun gather before the Altar of the divine Soldier, Jesus Christ. Here on the cross we see Him who died for the sins of the world and for peace among men. When we look at the Altar of God, we never see the Apostle of peace or the risen victorious Christ — always we behold Christ the Soldier dying for humanity. And so the cross is the blessed symbol of Him Who gave His life for the temporal and eternal well-being of all men.

“There are many consolations for the members of Father Kapaun’s family, particularly for his broken-hearted father and mother. His death, of course, is a great loss to the diocese and to the Army, but I would hesitate to tell what his loss means to his beloved parents. Their greatest consolation is that Father Kapaun met his death in acts of heroic duty — which were recognized and praised by his fellow soldiers.

“As a prisoner, his name and deeds were held in benediction — and no soldier among the more than three millions in the Armed Forces of the United States has received such beautiful eulogies as our own Father Kapaun.

“Today then, we honor Father Kapaun by offering for him, the Holy Mass which is the everlasting memorial and the continuation of the supreme sacrifice made by Christ on Calvary. Every day in our Catholic Church is ‘Memorial Day’ because in every Mass the priest is bidden to keep a sacred tryst with the faithful departed. ‘Remember also, O Lord, Thy servants and handmaids who are gone before us with the sign of faith and rest in the sleep of peace.’

“There is an association close and beautiful of the death of a soldier and the death of Christ. In fact, every-one who gives his life for his country finds the sanction and reward of his own death in the sacrifice and death of Christ on the Cross.

“In the name of the priests of the Diocese of Wichita who admired Father Kapaun for the fine man he was, I offer to his family this very sincere expression of heartfelt sympathy with the assurance that we, his brother priests, will deem it a glorious privilege to remember him prayer-fully — constantly inspired in our own lives by his prodigious love for God and man.

“May Jesus Christ, the Apostle of Peace, the divine Soldier, welcome home one who has fallen, one who has given his life for his country — one whose name will be held in veneration as a great American for decades to come, and may He grant him eternal rest, eternal love and peace everlasting. Amen.”

After the cathedral services, a luncheon was served to the bishop, clergy, and members of the Kapaun family in the Catholic cafeteria. Maj. George Hickey, Catholic chaplain at the Wichita air base, pinned a Gold Star medal on Mrs. Kapaun. He also presented the parents a fourth decoration given by the Defense Department for Father Kapaun, the medal for service in Korea.

All the praise of Father Kapaun was simply and succinctly stated by his Bishop who constantly and faith-fully corresponded with his Chaplain. The Bishop called upon the clergy and the laity to pray for his safe return, and he, as his spiritual Father, felt deeply his tragic death.

Said Bishop Carroll: “In a concert of voices — Protestant, Jewish, Catholic — the fellow soldiers of Father Kapaun declared that their Chaplain ‘spoke, acted and died like Christ’. This is the supreme, and ultimate eulogy which beggars any further tribute.”


This chapel, erected under the supervision of the St. Columban Fathers and paid for by the contributions of American soldiers, was dedicated on Nov. 4, 1953, in Seoul, Korea, by the local Bishop, The Most Rev. Paul M. Rho. The chapel honors the five American priests who made the supreme sacrifice in the Korean Theatre of war.

There were many distinguished guests at the dedi-cation including President Syngman Rhee, Ambassador Ellis Briggs and General Maxwell D. Taylor. In the vestibule of the church is a beautiful marble plaque with this legend:


Father Herman D. Felhoelter

Father Francis X. Coppens

Father Leo P. Craig

Father Emil J. Kapaun

Father Lawrence F. Brunnert

And to all who gave their lives in the cause of justice, freedom and peace in Korea.

At the dedication ceremony Chaplain (Capt.) Francis C. Biel paid solemn tribute to each brave priest in an eloquent sermon. Of Father Kapaun, he said, in part, “While with the 8th Cavalry Regiment of the 1st Cavalry Division, he was awarded the Bronze Star for his heroism in action against the enemy near Kumchon, Korea.

“Father Kapaun was taken prisoner on Nov. 2, 1950, when ‘although fully aware of the great danger, he voluntarily remained behind and when last seen was administering medical treatment and rendering religious rites wherever he found need. Father Kapaun died in May 1951 while in the hands of the enemy, after his heroic services for the prisoners of war had become legendary. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross posthumously.”


This award was granted posthumously to Chaplain Kapaun on Feb. 12, 1954, in a ceremony conducted on the site of the Four Chaplains’ Memorial in Falls Church, Va. On behalf of Father Kapaun’s parents, the award was received by Lt. Ray Dowe of Washington, D.C., fellow prisoner of the Chaplain. It was Lt. Dowe who thrilled all Americans by his magnificent tribute to his beloved comrade in the Saturday Evening Post of Jan. 16, 1954, as related to Harold H. Martin.

The Four Chaplains’ Award is named in honor of the four brave men — two ministers, a rabbi and a priest — who voluntarily gave up their life belts and died in the sinking of the U.S. troopship Dorchester in 1943. The award is presented annually to the chaplain who best exemplifies “the spirit of the armed forces in serving God and their fellowmen.”


“Dear Mrs. Kapaun:

“On Saturday, Feb. 6, the Alexander Goode Lodge of the B’nai Brith, a Jewish fraternal organization, held its annual dinner at the Hotel Plaza here in New York on a date close to the anniversary of the sinking of the American transport, U.S.S. Dorchester in which four chaplains — Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish — gave up their life belts to service men and so also their lives and sank with the ship beneath the Arctic waves.

“Each year for the past four years this Jewish organization has sought to single out military chaplains who by their lives have exemplified the spirit of the original four who went down with the Dorchester. Should it be any cause for wonder that this group should have chosen as the outstanding army chaplain of the year, your own good and heroic son — Father Emil?

“It is true that he died nearly three years ago in North Korea, a martyr and shining example of the American priesthood, but since his death was officially ascertained only this year, the award was given to him at this time.

“Father Emil was the subject of a great eulogy at The Four Chaplains award dinner and Bishop Griffiths received, in my name, the enclosed check in the amount of $500 which is a testimonial of the Jewish Wool and Worsted Industry in New York to the sacrificial service rendered to Americans of every religious persuasion by your son.

“I pray Almighty God to console you for the loss of this wonderful, priestly son whom you gave to the Church and to America, that the spiritual and moral values for which he lived and for which he died may remain always an integral part of our great American heritage.

“With every good wish and blessing, I am

Sincerely yours, Military Ordinariate F. Cardinal Spellman Feb. 11, 1954 Military Vicar”


The following letter to Bishop Carroll was written Dec. 9, 1953:

“We Catholic men in a section of Los Angeles called Westchester have formed a new council of the Knights of Columbus. We have decided to call it the Father Emil J. Kapaun Council, after the heroic priest who died doing his duties for God and man in Korea, helping the suffering and dying in a POW Red camp.

“We are very pleased and proud to be able to use this name and my only hope is that this council lives up to all that his glorious career symbolizes.”


The impact of Father Kapaun’s unselfish service was seen in the response to a request by Dale Francis in his column, “Looking and Listening,” in Our Sunday Visitor. This columnist has been conducting, for years, an intelli-gent and effective crusade for better movies. Dale Francis recommended to his readers a filming of the life of Father Kapaun. In response to the article in his column, on this subject, he received some forty thousand signatures approving such a movie.


Dec. 8, 1953

“Dear Bishop Carroll:

“As secretary-treasurer of the ‘Father Kapaun Prisoner of War Memorial Fund’, I purposely delayed in communicating with you until the promises we made in captivity materialized in freedom. Those promises were: To erect a small memorial to Father Kapaun perpetuating the memory of this outstanding individual, both as a chaplain and as a man among men.

“This memorial is to be placed in the parish of his nativity and youth. The second promised was to donate a purse to charity in the fulfillment of our long cherished dream.

“Since my release from the Communist forces in Korea on Sept. 6, 1953, here is the progress achieved. The arrangements for the construction of the memorial have been made. The Most Rev. James McNulty of Paterson, N.J., and Monsignor Carlo Cianci of the St. Michael’s parish, Paterson, N.J., are actively interested in completing the memorial. On an inclosure to this letter, a sketch of the memorial is set out in rough detail.

“From all over America, England and Puerto Rico and the Philippines contributions have been pouring in for the fund so that now my records reflect that there is more than four-fold the amount Father Kapaun had pledged to donate to charity. The citizens of Paterson contributed over $1,100. This money will be given to Your Excellency to be used for any charity you deem necessary.

“Plans for the presentation of the memorial will not be made without first seeking counsel from Your Excellency, since there may exist questions and problems which I have been unable to foresee. At present these problems can be overcome by correspondence, as I am now in the process of reporting to my next assignment.

“Then final plans for the presentation of the memorial may be completed by more expeditious means. Looking forward to that day when our obscure dreams have become a reality.”

Ralph A. Nardella
Captain Infantry


In order to provide a living memorial for Chaplain Kapaun, Bishop Carroll announced that he would erect a new high school for boys which will bear the name “Chaplain Emil J. Kapaun Memorial High School.” It is hoped that this school will be ready by September 1955.


Since Father Kapaun was ordained in St. John’s Chapel attached to Sacred Heart College, the Sisters of the Precious Blood have established a permanent memorial room where all his personal effects, library, military uniforms, vestments, religious articles will be displayed. Thousands of visitors have already viewed these precious relics of the chaplain.

Last modified Aug. 1, 2013