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    Beacon of Hope: US Soldier deploys, returns home. . .71 years later

    Beacon of Hope: US Soldier deploys, returns home. . .71 years later

    Photo By Staff Sgt. Carolyn Hart | Soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st...... read more read more

    Upon deployment, usually Soldiers look forward to the day when they can set foot on their home soil. For some the time until that day arrives can seem like years versus the actual months it typically takes. Welcome home ceremonies become more than a celebration to the end of deployment, but a sign of chapter that’s ended and a mission accomplished. For one Soldier, that timeline and subsequent ceremony stretched far beyond what many imagined.

    The Call of Duty

    The Korean War has often been called “The Forgotten War”. This was in part due to the fact that many of the Soldiers who fought in the war rotated in and out of combat without a lot of attention being put on what was happening. In June 1950 North Korea invaded South Korea causing the United States to rush American troops to the peninsula. During the battle of Unsan 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team was the first to be over run. Many Soldiers lost their lives and others were struggling to continue to fight. Among those Soldiers, one stood out, Chaplain Emil J. Kapaun. Kapaun, a captain in the US Army, rescued about 30 wounded Soldiers and traveled from foxhole to foxhole while under direct enemy fire to minister to countless others. Along with praying for the tired and wounded Soldiers, he also put himself in harm’s way in order to administer the sacraments to the dying Soldiers. He retrieved many Soldiers off the battlefield in order to give them a proper burial.
    When given the option to flee to safety with the rest of the unit, Chaplain Kapaun made the decision to stay behind and tend to the wounded. Once they were captured, Kapaun and the rest of the men were forced to march 87 miles in frigid conditions to their prison camp. Many of the Soldiers, wounded from battle, could not walk. Kapaun encouraged the wounded Soldiers to carry those who could walk on their own, himself carrying several Soldiers along the way.

    The Man

    For the next seven months Kapaun would dedicate himself to the betterment and wellbeing of his fellow prisoners. He would wake up before the others to melt ice so the Soldiers could have water to drink. He would sneak out of the camp to scrounge up corn, salt and anything else he could find that could feed the starving Soldiers. He made daily trips to the huts of the wounded Soldiers and provide aid to the sick and dying Soldiers. When men would die, he would volunteer for burial duty so that he could quickly pray over their graves.
    Born on a farmhouse in Pilsen, Kansas April 20, 1916, Kapaun would learn many of the skills he used to help his fellow prisoners on that farm. He spent his childhood on the 160-acre farm and would return home often to visit his family and work in the farm. He was a hard worker and described as “neighborly”, traits that he would exhibit throughout his life.
    Kapaun became a beacon of hope for the men imprisoned with him. Their captors quickly realized that he was a source of strength for the prisoners and wanted to stop him. They feared killing or stopping him for fear of the other prisoners rebelling. They instead waited for the opportunity to get rid of him in a way that would not get much attention. That time came a few weeks after Kapaun held Easter Service for the men. He became ill with pneumonia and a blood clot in his leg. He could no longer walk and slipped in and out of consciousness for a few weeks. Just as it started to look like he may recover, the Chinese ordered that Kapaun be moved to the camp “hospital” which was really the place where people are sent to die. The other POWs fought against this, but Kapaun stopped them. “Don’t worry about me,” he said. “I’m going where I always wanted to go, and when I get there, I’ll say a prayer for all of you.” The Soldiers demanded they be allowed to carry him to the hospital themselves and with tears in their eyes, they walked him to where he would die alone May 23, 1951 at the age of 35.


    Aboard the same Boeing 777 used to transport Pope Francis in 2015, Chaplain Kapaun’s journey home began after more than 70 years. He was greeted at the Wichita Dwight Eisenhower International Airport Sept 25 in Wichita, KS. During what would be a four-day celebration of his life, and ending with a funeral, Kapaun is honored by veterans, church-goers, community leaders as well as his family.
    Upon reaching his home state, Kansas, Kapaun’s homecoming celebration began. With a procession that took him back to his hometown of Pilsen, he is welcomed home as a home town hero. He last visited his hometown in December 1949 before deploying to Korea with 3-8 Cav, 1st Cavalry Division. His remains were placed inside of St. John Nepomucene Catholic Church, where they were held for three days. His hometown had the opportunity to visit and pray with the Medal of Honor hero who once spoke in that very church to his parishioners, before a funeral vigil was held in his honor back in Wichita. More than 5,000 people gathered at the Hartman Arena for a funeral mass. Soldiers from his unit, 3-8 Cav served as pallbearers during the service.
    “It was a tremendous honor to represent 3-8 Cav and the Army in welcoming home Chaplain Kapaun,” said Maj. Michael Scott Finch, operations officer with 3-8 Cav. “Chaplain Kapaun fulfilled his mission of nurture the living, care for the wounded and honor the fallen. His faithful and loyal service to those he served with and met, no matter their religion, drive our unit to uphold the highest ethics and morals.”
    Following the funeral mass, Kapaun was taken to his final resting place, the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception in Wichita, KS. A ceremony fit for a military hero, was attended by hundreds of people. Supporters lined the streets as the procession passed by with Soldiers from his unit along with his family. The 1st Cavalry Division command teams, Maj. Gen. John Richardson and Command Sgt. Maj. Shade Munday, as well as the 3BCT command team, Col. Justin Reese and Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Hall.
    “Chaplain Kapaun is a towering figure in our battalion’s storied history,” said Lt. Col. Nicholas Sinclair, commander of 3-8 Cav. “He is featured prominently on the walls of our battalion headquarters. We tell the story of his character and heroism to our newcomers as a way to connect each trooper to the legacy that came before them.”
    Sinclair, who along with brigade commander Col. Reese, walked along with the family during the funeral procession also presented the family with the folded American flag that was draped over Kapaun’s coffin. He and the rest of the command teams felt it “profoundly meaningful to welcome home Chaplain Kapaun, who fought and died as a Soldier in 3-8 Cav and deserves the highest honors.”
    “We never forget” said Richardson, commanding general of 1st Cavalry Division. “The division hasn’t forgotten and our presence here throughout the week is symbolic that this division has never forgotten and will never forget our fallen comrades.”



    Date Taken: 10.01.2021
    Date Posted: 10.01.2021 20:18
    Story ID: 406574
    Location: WICHITA, KS, US 
    Hometown: PILSEN, KS, US

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