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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 16

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Story of Chaplain Kapaun

Arthur Tonne

published by
Didde Publishers
Emporia, KS, 1954

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 18

 p223  Chapter Seventeen

Memorial Mass

Since the day of his capture in November of 1950, the only official report of Father Kapaun was "missing in action". Hope that he was alive and that he would be among the exchanged prisoners flickered feebly until June of 1953 when his name failed to appear on the lists of those who returned from prison camps. On July 12, 1953, the Kapauns received the following letter from the War Department:​a

"Dear Mr. Kapaun:

"I am writing you concerning your son, Chaplain (Capt.) Emil J. Kapaun, who was reported missing in action in Korea on 2 November 1950.

"Information has been received from several of the men recently repatriated following imprisonment in North Korea that Chaplain Kapaun died on 5 May, 1951, at Pyoktong, North Korea, while in the hands of the opposing forces. The cause of his death was not definitely known.

"The office of the Quartermaster General, Washington 25, D. C., is responsible for furnishing information on recovery, identification and disposition of the remains of the dead. It is customary for that office to communicate promptly with the next of kin upon receipt of definite information for the overseas command.

"I sincerely regret that this message must carry so much sorrow into your home and I hope that in time you may find sustaining comfort in knowing that he served  p224 his country honorably. My deepest sympathy is extended to you in your bereavement.

Sincerely yours,
Wm. E. Bergin
Major General, U. S. A.

The Adjutant General of the Army"

The grief-stricken parents forwarded the letter to Bishop Carroll, who immediately announced special services for the first gold-star priest of the diocese of Wichita. On July 29, 1953, His Excellence celebrated Solemn Pontifical Requiem Mass in the Cathedral of St. Mary, Wichita, Kansas. More than 100 priests were present, together with a large number of Sisters and lay people, and a big delegation from Pilsen. Among them were Mr. and Mrs. Kapaun and their son, Eugene, with his wife.

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Memorial Mass, St. Mary Cathedral, Wichita.
Dad and Mother in the right foreground.

 p225  A four‑man color guard from the Wichita Air Base stood at attention in front of the catafalque. A choir of 12 priests sang the Mass. The Bishop gave the absolution over the flag-draped catafalque, which was surmounted by symbols of the priesthood — the chalice, stole and missal. He then delivered a sermon on the priesthood and lauded Father Kapaun as a worthy representative of that exalted office.

On this occasion Bishop Carroll's sermon was in part as follows:

"It was some ten days ago that we were all shocked and saddened by the tragic news that Father Emil J. Kapaun was officially declared dead by the War Department of the United States. This young priest, as we remember, was captured by the Communists on November 2, 1950, and has been listed as missing in action since that time. We had hoped against hope that Father Kapaun would be among the returning prisoners of war, but apparently his work was done and his brief heroic life as a priest and a soldier came to a dramatic end in a hospital somewhere in North Korea.

"Father Kapaun was, as we all well know, a good and holy priest — an apostle of love and the faithful captain of souls. He possessed a very attractive personality, a man apparently always in good humor, with a winning smile and a word of encouragement and kindness for everyone he met. He was ideally equipped to be a parish priest and was universally admired and loved by those he had served here in the Diocese of Wichita. Father Kapaun was not only an apostle of peace and love, but he was the valiant soldier who guarded the flock of Christ committed to his care, and he stood stalwart, always, for those divine truths to which his vocation was dedicated.

"After the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor, Father Kapaun generously volunteered his services to the Army.  p226 As a Chaplain, he was held in high esteem by his fellow officers and the men he served, and because of his excellent record, was promoted to a Captaincy. Some few years ago, Father Kapaun, after having been returned to civilian life, volunteered again because he stated men in the Army needed a Chaplain even more than the folks at home need a parish priest. . . .

"Once a year, on Memorial Day, grateful Americans bless and pray for the souls of our military departed, but since Pearl Harbor every day in the calendar has become a Memorial Day as hourly our casualties increase. A soldier deserves our esteem and our prayers because when he joins the armed forces he has the virtual intention of making the supreme sacrifice, and surely Our Lord had the fallen soldier in mind when He said, 'Greater love than this no man hath, than that a man lay down his life for his friends'. . . .

"An Army and a Navy are essential to the defense of our Country, and God has blessed these United States of America down through the years because when freedom is challenged there have responded the finest men in all the world — our American youth. The great Cardinal Mercier, beloved hero of the First World War, in a famous letter states specifically that every soldier who dies for truth and freedom and peace is a martyr in God's eyes.

" 'If I am asked what I think of the eternal salvation of a brave man who has consciously given his life in defence of his country's honour, and in vindication of violated justice, I shall not hesitate to reply that without any doubt whatever Christ crowns his military valour; and that death, accepted in this Christian spirit, assures the safety of that man's soul. "Greater love than this no man hath," said our Saviour, "than that a man lay down his life for his friends." And the soldier who dies to save his brothers and to defend the hearths and altars  p227 of his country, reaches this highest of all degrees of charity. He may not have made a close analysis of the value of his sacrifice; but must we suppose that God requires of the plain soldier, in the excitement of battle, the methodical precision of the moralist or the theologian? Can we who revere his heroism doubt that his God welcomes him with love?'

"This morning, in the Cathedral of St. Mary in Wichita, the Clergy, Religious and the family of Father Kapaun gather before the Altar of the divine Soldier, Jesus. Here on the cross we see Him who died for the sins of the world and for peace among men. When we look at the Altar of God, we never see the Apostle of peace or the risen victorious Christ — always we behold Christ the Soldier dying for humanity. And so the cross is the blessed symbol of Him Who gave His life for the temporal and eternal well-being of all men. . . .

"There are many consolations for the members of Father Kapaun's family, particularly for his broken-hearted father and mother. His death, of course, is a great loss to the diocese and to the Army, but I would hesitate to tell what his loss means to his beloved parents. Their greatest consolation is that Father Kapaun met his death in acts of heroic duty — which were recognized and praised by his fellow soldiers. As a prisoner, his name and deeds were held in benediction — and no soldier among the more than three millions in the Armed Forces of the United States has received such beautiful eulogies as our own Father Kapaun.

"Today then, we honor Father Kapaun by offering for him, the Holy Mass which is the everlasting memorial and the continuation of the supreme sacrifice made by Christ on Calvary. Every day in our Catholic Church is 'Memorial Day' because in every Mass the priest is bidden to keep a sacred trust with the faithful departed. 'Remember  p228 also, O Lord, Thy servants and handmaids who are gone before us with the sign of faith and rest in the sleep of peace.' There is an association close and beautiful of the death of a soldier and the death of Christ. In fact, everyone who gives his life for his country finds the sanction and reward of his own death in the sacrifice and death of Christ on the Cross.

"In the name of the priests of the Diocese of Wichita who admired Father Kapaun for the fine man he was, I offer to his family this very sincere expression of heartfelt sympathy with the assurance that we, his brother priests, will deem it a glorious privilege to remember him prayerfully — constantly inspired in our own lives by his prodigious love for God and man.

"May Jesus Christ, the Apostle of Peace, the divine Soldier, welcome home one who has fallen, one who has given his life for his country — one whose name will be held in veneration as a great American for decades to come, and may He grant him eternal rest, eternal love and peace everlasting. Amne."

After the Cathedral services, a luncheon was served to the Bishop, clergy and members of the Kapaun family in the Catholic cafeteria. Major George Hickey, Catholic chaplain at the Wichita Air Base, pinned a Gold Star medal on Mrs. Kapaun. He also presented the parents a fourth decoration given by the Defense Department for Father Kapaun, the medal for service in Korea.

(Note — Although the telegram from the War Department gave May 6 as the date of Father Kapaun's death, his fellow prisoners are quite certain that the date was May 23. The prisoners kept an accurate calendar of the passing days. Father Kapaun was removed to the hospital on May 21. An American officer — one of the very few who came back alive — returned from the hospital two days later, stating that the Chaplain had died that morning.)

Thayer's Note:

a So the text of this chapter, thruout; but more correctly, the Department of Defense, the name having been adopted in 1949.

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Page updated: 25 Dec 13