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    Fort Riley historic names: Emil Joseph Kapaun

    Fort Riley historic names: Emil Joseph Kapaun

    Courtesy Photo | Kapaun Chapel is named after Chaplain (Capt.) Emil Joseph Kapaun, a Kansas native and...... read more read more



    Story by Gail Parsons 

    Fort Riley Public Affairs Office

    This is part of a continuing series exploring the people behind names of Fort Riley streets, buildings and parade fields.

    Just past the roundabout bringing travelers onto the one-way portion of Normandy Drive is Kapaun Chapel — named after Kansas native Emil Joseph Kapaun.
    Kapaun is a Medal of Honor recipient but some feel he deserves an even higher award. The Catholic Church is in the canonization process to elevate the priest and Army chaplain to sainthood.
    Born in the small Czech farming community of Pilsen, Kansas, about 50 miles south of Fort Riley April 20, 1916, Kapaun was the descendant of German Bohemians. He was ordained June 9, 1940.
    He first became acquainted with the needs of the military when assigned to the former Army airbase in Herington, Kansas. During his 18-month stay there in 1943 and 1944, he heard the calling to the chaplaincy, according to “The Story of Emil J. Kapaun”, a booklet printed by the Catholic Diocese of Wichita, Kansas, which chronicles his life.
    He joined the Army Chaplain Corps in 1944 and began his military service as a chaplain to troops in India and Burma in the final years of World War II. “The Story of Emil J. Kapaun” said he sent letters to his bishop and he often reported traveling 2,000 to 2,500 miles per month by Jeep to celebrate Mass for troops in forward areas.
    After the war, Kapaun left the Army, he went back to school and served at several assignments for the church but he had a desire to return to serving Soldiers. After his first request was denied, Kapaun gained permission from the bishop to return to the Chaplain Corps, according to the booklet and a page about his life on the Kapaun Mt. Carmel Catholic High School website,
    He shipped out to Yokohama, Japan in January of 1950 to join the post-World War II peacekeeping forces of the 1st Cavalry Division. Six months later, North Korea invaded South Korea and in July of that year, the division was deployed to help repel the invasion.
    Kapaun was not one to minister from a location of safety. In accounting of his battlefield work, the booklet said he “would risk his life to administer the sacraments to the dying, to retrieve wounded Soldiers and to bury the dead — ally and enemy alike.
    “Numerous times he barely escaped with his life. On one occasion his smoking pipe was shot out of his mouth by a sniper’s bullet. On another, he lost all of his possessions, including his Mass kit and Jeep. After this, he always carried the Blessed Sacrament and the vessels for Mass on his body, along with his confession stole and holy oils.”
    He received the Bronze Star for bravery in action Aug. 2, 1950, near Kumchon, South Korea, where he rescued a wounded Soldier despite intense enemy machinegun fire.
    As the 8th Cav. pushed its way into North Korea, they were ambushed by the Chinese.
    The night of Nov. 1, 1950, while protecting the town of Unsan, the 8th Cav. was ambushed. “The Story of Emil J. Kapaun” recounts how the chaplain anointed the dying and dragged the wounded to safety. He was captured but escaped when his captors were shot by U.S. Soldiers.
    “Offered a last chance to retreat to safety, Father Kapaun and an Army Medic, Doctor Clarence Anderson decided to remain and look after the wounded,” the booklet states. “Deep in the day on Nov. 2, the group was captured by the Communists. Seeing a wounded soldier about to be shot by a North Korean, Father Kapaun rushed over, pushed the gun aside, and picked up the wounded GI, Sgt. Herbert Miller. In disbelief at the chaplain’s bravery, the North Korean let the two live.”
    In the ensuing months, Kapaun, according to several accounts, ministered to his fellow prisoners, giving them help and hope. Ignoring his own ill health, he nursed the sick and wounded, stole food for the hungry, picked lice off of men, washed dirty and soiled clothing, and encouraged men through prayer and humor to keep fighting for life.
    While encouraging others, his own health was failing. Eventually, his captors moved him to a hospital, where May 23, 1951 he died.
    During the years following his death, stories about Kapaun’s actions circulated. They painted a picture of a man that the Catholic Church began to see as worthy of sainthood.
    “Many say that they only survived because of Father Kapaun’s physical and spiritual assistance, and when the Soldiers were released nearly two and a half years later, they started telling the world about what their beloved “padre” had done for them,” the school’s website states.
    In 1993, Kapaun was given the title Servant of God, by the Catholic Church, recognizing that he is a candidate for canonization. In Nov. 2015 more than 8,000 pages of documentation were presented to the Congregation for Causes of Saints in Rome. As of 2016, the congregation has begun to review the Positio Super Vita, Virtutibus et Fama Sanctitatis, or Statement on the Life, Virtue and Holy Reputation, of Father Kapaun.

    Honoring a hero
    Kapaun was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 2013 by President Barrack Obama. The citation reads:
    For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy at Unsan, Korea, from Nov. 1 to 2, 1950. On Nov. 1, as Chinese Communist Forces viciously attacked friendly elements, Chaplain Kapaun calmly walked through withering enemy fire in order to provide comfort and medical aid to his comrades and rescue friendly wounded from no-man’s land. Though the Americans successfully repelled the assault, they found themselves surrounded by the enemy. Facing annihilation, the able-bodied men were ordered to evacuate. However, Chaplain Kapaun, fully aware of his certain capture, elected to stay behind with the wounded.
    After the enemy succeeded in breaking through the defense in the early morning hours of Nov. 2, Chaplain Kapaun continually made rounds, as hand-to-hand combat ensued. As Chinese Communist Forces approached the American position, Chaplain Kapaun noticed an injured Chinese officer amongst the wounded and convinced him to negotiate the safe surrender of the American Forces. Shortly after his capture, Chaplain Kapaun, with complete disregard for his personal safety and unwavering resolve, bravely pushed aside an enemy soldier preparing to execute Sgt. 1st Class Herbert A. Miller. Not only did Chaplain Kapaun’s gallantry save the life of Sgt. Miller, but also his unparalleled courage and leadership inspired all those present, including those who might have otherwise fled in panic, to remain and fight the enemy until captured. Chaplain Kapaun’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness, above and beyond the call of duty, are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, the 1st Cavalry Division, and the United States Army.



    Date Taken: 01.17.2020
    Date Posted: 01.21.2020 18:34
    Story ID: 359853
    Location: KS, US

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