Paul Roach, 91, a former second lieutenant in the Army, was in Pilsen Sunday for Mass at St. John Nepomucene Catholic Church and to tour the Kapaun Museum.
Lt. Roach said he was honored to have spent three months in the same prisoner of war compound in North Korea as Chaplain Emil Kapaun.
His group was captured two weeks after Kapaun was captured in late 1950 and were marched 48 miles to the prison camp.
On their first night there, Roach said, there was a knock on the door. It was Father Kapaun.
“He prayed with us, told us jokes, and cheered us up,” Roach said.
Roach spent 3½ years in the POW camp before being released. He said conditions improved some after Kapaun died in April 1951, but he would never forget those first months in the camp, when Kapaun walked among them.
In an interview Roach gave in 1980 for the Veterans History Project, he described Father Kapaun. He didn’t know his name.
“We had one American priest who was really a hero,” he said. “He would give up his food for sick people. He would go to the hospital every day and counsel people who were dying there. He was busy all the time. He’d come to our squadrons every day and try to give us courage. The Chinese allowed him. They were afraid, I think, of him. They allowed him some freedom within our camp. Then he got sick and died in a hospital. Now they are trying to make him a saint.”
Tour leader Harriet Bina said Routh was thrilled to visit Kapaun’s home church and tour the museum.
“We all knew his story already, but it was great to meet him in person,” she said.
Roach lives in Las Cruces, New Mexico.