Pastor in Timken; in uniform again

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After granting him a brief vacation, Bishop Carroll, on April 9, 1948, appointed Father Kapaun pastor of Holy Trinity Church, Timken, a predominantly Bohemian parish. There he labored until called back into service as chaplain, Oct. 9 of the same year. In that brief period, he captured the hearts of the people just as he later won the esteem of the fellows in the foxholes of Korea. Everyone with whom he came in contact — businessmen, farmers, priests — attested to the warmth his own sunny nature evoked in his fellow men.

Joe Fiala, operator of a bowling recreation hall, threw up his hands in surprise when asked if he remembered the priest. “Do I remember him? He used to bowl with me and the boys. The father was a man’s man and one of the best sports I have ever known.”

“I’m no a Catholic, but that did not make any difference,” Fiala added. “Everybody around here, Protestant and Catholic, liked him.” Fiala said that Father Kapaun never discussed differences of religion unless he was asked. His sincerity in his faith was very deep.

As Father Clupny, present pastor of Timken, summed it up: “He was the most wonderful man I ever met;” adding, “a saint is the best possible description of Father Kapaun I could give. A go-getter—” Father Clupny reflected. “No, I would rather say he was a go-giver. That would better describe his spirit of service to others.”

A good priest’s influence goes on and on, as seen in these lines from one he inspired:

Cathedral of the Sacred Heart

Dodge City, Kansas

July 27, 1953

“Dear Mr. and Mrs. Kapaun:

“Perhaps you do not remember me. I met you when I was a seminarian and Father Emil was taking me to the Seminary. We stopped at your place.

“Please let me give you my deepest sympathy, but do not let this renew your sorrow, rather may it comfort you to know that he was so good and brave.

“I am from Timken. If I had not met Father and received his encouragement, I would never have been ordained a priest. His kindness and holy example prompted me to go back to the Seminary. He was my model of a good priest. The wonderful reports that have come from those who knew him over there prove His model was Our Blessed Lord. I want to fill in that great loss just a little and to follow in his footsteps.

“Ever since I was ordained, May 20, 1951, I have prayed for his welfare. I used to pray for him before I fell asleep at night and hoped some day to give him my first priestly blessing. But now that must wait until we meet in heaven. I have saved every letter I ever received from him and also the last he sent me on October of 1950, which he wrote while riding in a jeep.

“Even though you miss him greatly, you can still feel proud of a son like him. I shall miss him, but he will always be remembered in all my Masses and prayers — of that you can be sure.

“If there is anything I can do for you at any time, just let me know and I’ll be more than happy to help. In the meantime, you also are being remembered in Holy Masses and prayers for I feel I owe you something for knowing good Father Emil as I did.

“When I am around Pilsen, I’ll drop in to see you.

Devotedly in Christ,

Father Fred Tuzicka”

Although he seemed supremely happy, there was growing in his priestly heart the conviction that his services were of much greater need in the Army than on the home front. Once again he wrote to his Bishop:

Holy Trinity Church

Timken, Kansas

Sept. 1, 1948

“Most Reverend and dear Bishop:

“The reason I am willing to go back to active duty is the same for which Bishop Winkelmann permitted me to join the reserves; namely that we would have priests who are trained to go into duty immediately when the need came.

“If the choice depended only on personal desires, I would never wish to relinquish my work here in Timken for work in the Army. But in matters such as these, I believe a priest should be desirous of offering himself even though he personally would prefer to remain in the diocese. I have grown to love these people very much; but, in conscience, I believe I should offer myself for work in the Armed Forces, especially in this crisis.

“If you wish to discuss this matter with me, I shall be happy to call on you at Wichita any time you arrange. (However, on September 8, I have arranged to validate a marriage here in Timken.)”

On Sep. 25, 1948, he received permission to re-enlist. While waiting for active service, he assisted at Pilsen. On Nov. 15, he was assigned to Fort Bliss, Texas, where he served with the Anti-Aircraft Artillery Corps until Jan. 1, 1950. He tells his bishop about it:

El Paso, Texas

Nov. 26, 1948

“Most Reverend and dear Bishop:

“At last I have received an assignment with a definite outfit, so I am forwarding my address. Our 35th Brigade is just activating, and really we are starting from ‘scratch’. I do not have one bit of equipment for my office; my chapel is just being fixed. The building had been vacated about two years ago. Since then the interior accumulated a good portion of dust and dirt. We are still cleaning and varnishing the floor and hope to have it completely finished and furnished by January when we expect to have some 6,000 soldiers in my outfit alone. Altogether, we are supposed to have some 30,000 soldiers here by January or February, and there are only two Catholic chaplains. A tremendous task!

“Our camp is on the outskirts of El Paso, in ‘Logan Heights’, at the foot of a mountain, overlooking the desert. We can see at least 40 miles, to the next mountain range. Not even grass will grow here — just cactus and a sort of sickly looking weed. It is very dusty, and the desert sand sometimes blows so hard that it takes the paint off my car. I am holding my typewriter on my knees and am sitting on my bunk, my only piece of furniture.

“The wind is trying desperately to blow away our little shack, but I hope it does not succeed. Every few minutes we receive a fresh ‘bath’ of dust as it filters into this hut. The nights are cold and freezing, but the days are fairly warm. This army life is not what one would call comfortable, but I like it. It is like a camping trip, and the soldiers are very appreciative of what we do for them.

“The Chaplain is given a very influential and important role in the training of the men, even more so than during my last tour of duty two years ago. So you see I am a happy man, and I know that there is so much good that can be done here with these young men. I am most grateful that I had a special training in Catholic University concerning ‘youth and character’!”

In late October 1949 he received his “alert” orders and so notified Bishop Carroll:

Fort Bliss, Texas

Nov. 1, 1949

“Most Reverend and dear Bishop:

“I have been alerted for overseas duty. I am supposed to be at the Port of Embarkation at Seattle, Washington, no later than Jan. 2, 1950, for shipment to Yokohama, Japan. My soldiers will have left Fort Bliss by Dec. 8. I have been thinking of taking a leave around Dec. 12, and spending Christmas in the Wichita Diocese. I might spend part of Christmas Day with my parents. If you wish me to help out in some parish for the holidays, please let me know. I shall be glad to be of any help.”

No matter how busy Bishop Carroll’s schedule, he answered every letter and monthly report of his chaplain. The following is typical:

Nov. 1, 1949

“Dear Father Kapaun:

“I have just returned to Wichita a few moments ago after a long confirmation tour in the Eastern part of Kansas. I wish to thank you sincerely for your very fine letter and the usual monthly report of your spiritual activity at Fort Bliss.

“Naturally, I was quite surprised to learn that you will be sent to Japan. You may be sure that I will not say anything about it until you give me the green light. At the proper time you can tell me and there will be a little write-up of your going in the Advance Register.”

Dec.12, 1949, Father came to Pilsen for what proved his final vacation. To several friends and priests, he confided his fear that the Korean War would be a ‘bloody’ struggle.

He took time two days before Christmas to drop in at the farm home of Virgil Alien, a convert, who was recuperating from a serious spinal operation. The two hours Father spent with him were two of the most enjoyable Alien ever experienced. “I’ll never forget him,” he said, “for his cheerful and consoling visit, and the fact that he so generously gave me some of the precious moments of his leave.”

Father Kapaun assisted at solemn Midnight Mass in his native parish and the next day left for the West Coast in his own car accompanied by Joseph Meysing, a neighbor, on the first lap of his trip to Korea.

“Father Kapaun stopped here at Belpre,” writes Father John Vesecky, a close friend, “and paid me a visit on his way to Korea. Call it what you wish, but he told me that he probably would never return. He mentioned that the Korean War was terrible and that it would get worse and that very many of the boys would not return. We wrote back and forth until his capture. I have as a keepsake from him, a large handmade bronze pyx that was made by one of ‘his boys’ as he called him.”

From San Francisco, Meysing returned by train to Kansas, and Father Kapaun continued his journey to Fort Lawton, Seattle, Washington.

From Fort Lawton, Chaplain Kapaun went to the Port of Embarkation, Seattle, where he was processed for travel and where he remained until Jan. 22, 1950. Future communications were from Japan.

 

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