Brave and helpful to the last

October 19, 2021

Robaird O’Cearbhaill
Hong Kong Correspondent 

Fr Emil Kapaun, war hero, saved many lives while risking his own. His fearless charity may qualify him for sainthood. On the battlefield, numerous times he carried  wounded men to safety, helped dying men, and gave much spiritual and human comfort.

Refusing to leave a battle, he stayed to help the wounded and with them became desperate prisoners of war. A military chaplain, he died on the battlefield in Korea in 1951 at 35. 

Catholic News Service reported that Fr Kapaun was made a Servant of God in 1993, and that “his case is being reviewed by the Vatican Congregation for Saints Causes in Rome.” Wichita Bishop Carl Lemme’s report on the priest’s life, the positio, for the next step to sainthood, was delivered in 1995 to the Prefect  of the Congregation for Saints Cardinal Angelo Amato. Fr Kapuan belonged to the Wichita diocese.

Last month, CNS reported that, after the discovery of his long sought remains, Bishop Silva of Honolulu blessed them during a Mass. The remains were then brought for burial near home in Kansas state. 

The Hawaii mass homilist was Father Wayne Schmid, a priest of the Diocese of Wichita and a chaplain himself for more than 20 years, who said he owed his vocation to Fr. Kapaun.

“A saint for our times,” he said. “He is a model to be emulated by priests, by chaplains. He has been an influence on my life the way he lived his life totally and completely,” Fr Schmid added. “No task was too low for him. He was Christ’s presence wherever he was called to serve”.

The first extensive book biography on Fr Kapaun was made by homilist Fr Arthur Tonne in 1954 (became Monsignor in 1960): The Story of Chaplain Kapaun. Using  comrades in arms memories and interview transcripts, and praise from soldiers, the Fr Tonne painted a man whom, he wrote, fellow soldiers called “Christ on the battlefield.” 

Another stirring biography is at Kapaun’s Men Website, founded by his US army Korean comrades, some of whom survived through his help. His first battle experience in Korea showed his courage and sacrifice. 

In a battle against an overwhelming enemy, retreat was the only way out. However, with no way to transport the wounded, Fr Kapaun stayed to help them, knowing he would be captured. 

A 40-km death march followed, for the survivors, guarded by enemy troops. Those who fell were shot or left to die. But the chaplain saved perhaps as many as 11 men, his comrades recalled, with his physical, spiritual and mental help.

  Before the battle ended, Fr Kapaun went bravely and repeatedly into the dangerous shelling fighting zone, to rescue or give Last Rites to dying men.

(Photo: Father Emil Kapaun celebrates Mass using the hood of his jeep as an altar, as his assistant, Patrick J. Schuler, kneels in prayer in Korea on Oct. 7, 1950, less than a month before Kapaun was taken prisoner. Kapaun died in a prisoner of war camp on May 23, 1951, his body wracked by pneumonia and dysentery. On April 11, 2013, former President Barack Obama awarded the legendary chaplain, credited with saving hundreds of soldiers during the Korean War, the Medal of Honor posthumously. Source: U.S. Army Col. Raymond A. Skeehan /