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Spending the Summer with Chaplain Kapaun


After the Fourth of July, summer begins to really fly by. I panic, wondering how we are going to get to all the fun activities on our summer bucket list before school starts up again. Even the Walmart seems to be taunting me as bathing suits go on clearance and school supplies go on display. How is summer going by so quickly?


Then there are times when my best-laid plans do not go as planned and I get discouraged. As a mom, I know we have to go with the flow, but sometimes the flow gets a little fast and crazy!


That’s when we turn to our heavenly friends for help and encouragement. I know there are many saintly moms to call upon, but this summer, I found inspiration from a saintly army chaplain, Father Emil Kapaun.


An Inspiration to Serve

Father Kapaun loved “his boys,” the soldiers under his spiritual care. He put thousands of miles on his jeep visiting them, over mountains, through jungles, to the front lines. There’s an iconic picture of him saying Mass using the hood of the army jeep as an altar. The Army Captain knew God had called him to serve these soldiers.


During the Korean conflict, Father could be found in foxholes praying with the soldiers, on the battlefield administering Last Rites, and alongside medics retrieving the wounded. To ensure proper burial, he often helped bury the dead of ally and enemy soldiers alike. He kept the Blessed Sacrament, a stole, and holy oil on his person so that he was always ready to serve.


When taken captive, Father continued to serve the physical and spiritual needs of his boys. Because dysentery was causing havoc on the POW’s, Fr. Kapaun would get up early to gather sticks, make a fire, and melt snow in a make-shift bowl so that the guys would have clean drinking water. He would bathe the ill and launder their soiled clothing. Lice-infested bedding meant he often had to remove the parasites found on soldiers. Since food was so scarce, he would scrounge, sometimes even steal food, praying to St. Dismas, the good thief, for protection and success of his mission. If he could not get extra food, the priest would give his to those in most need. He would, also, feed them spiritually through prayer services, good counsel, and whenever possible, the Sacraments. A true father, Emil Kapaun provided for his boys.


The Gift of Encouragement

Despite their dire circumstances, the priest did his best to encourage the men. After they had been captured, the troops were marched sixty plus miles to a Korean prisoner of war camp. Those who fell behind were shot. Fr. Kapaun carried an injured soldier to the camp safely. By word and deed, he encouraged his fellow soldiers to help one another.


Under hard physical labor, Father urged his boys to complete their tasks at hand, helping them when needed, so to avoid beating and punishment. The army captain, however, took much punishment upon himself, including being made to stand naked outside in sub-zero temperatures. Because of his refusal to be beaten down and his encouragement that lifted up, Fr. Kapaun was considered by the Koreans to be an agitator. His men, though, saw him as an inspiration.


The Need for Forgiveness

All his hard work and sacrifices finally caught up with the priest. Pneumonia and a blood clot in his leg prevented him from being able to get out of bed. The men did their best to avert the guards from finding out about Father’s condition. They knew their captors would send him to the camp’s hospital, from which no POW ever returned.


Eventually, though, the Koreans figured it out. When they came to take the beloved Captain, the men were ready and willing to fight to be able to nurse the priest back to health themselves. Father Kapaun pulled rank and prevent them from acting foolishly, declaring, “Don’t worry about me, boys. I am going where I always wanted to go, and when I get there, I’ll pray for all of you.”


These were not the last words the men heard him say. Those who were chosen to carry Father to the hospital heard him pray, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Then he feebly raised his hand in blessing over the guards.


On May 23, 1951, at the age of 35 years, Father Emil Kapaun went to where he always wanted to go. Receiving the Distinguished Service Cross, the Legion of Merit, and, posthumously, the Medal of Honor, this humble Kansan is the most decorated chaplain in U.S. military history and on his way to being declared a saint.


Lessons Learned

So, when running our children all over town, let’s remember the many miles Fr. Kapaun drove to serve his boys.


Washing sand out of hair and hidden places of the body, think of Fr. Kapaun ridding bodies of lice.


If you go on a hike and halfway through your little companions get tired and need encouragement or even a lift, ask Fr. Kapaun for the wisdom and strength needed.


Putting the third load of towels in the wash? Father did laundry by hand. Thank you, Jesus, for washing machines!


When I get down because I’m not the perfect mother, I pray, “Father, forgive me; I do not know what I am doing!”


And when running out of energy to serve all those who depend on me this summer, I draw on the graces sent from the saintly chaplain. Father Emil Kapaun, help us to serve like you served.

 

Want to Learn More?

In 1993, the Archdiocese of the Military opened Father Emil Kapaun’s case for canonization. He was, then, declared a Servant of God. His cause has since been taken up by his home diocese of Wichita, Kansas. The case got delayed by Covid, paperwork, and politics. For a fascinating read on the process of Father’s canonization, read The Saint Makers: Inside the Catholic Church and How a War Hero inspired a Journey of Faith by Joe Drape. It is believed that once he is declared a Venerable, Father’s ascent to official sainthood will be quick, since already two medical miracles have been attributed to his intercession.


To help by praying for Father’s canonization, visit his official website at Father Emil J. Kapaun | Official Home Page (frkapaun.org). A prayer for the chaplain's canonization can be found there.


If you would like to learn more about his life, No Bullet Got Me Yet: The Relentless Faith of Father Kapaun by John Stansifer is a great read.


Chaplain Emil Kapaun, pray for us.

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