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Chapter 17

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 19

 p229  Chapter Eighteen

Universal Acclaim

All the praise of Father Kapaun was simply and succinctly stated by his Bishop who constantly and faithfully corresponded with his Chaplain. The Bishop called upon the clergy and the laity to pray for his safe return, and he, as his spiritual Father, felt deeply his tragic death.

Said Bishop Carroll: "In a concert of voices — Protestant, Jewish, Catholic — the fellow soldiers of Father Kapaun declared that their Chaplain 'spoke, acted and died like Christ'. This is the supreme, and ultimate eulogy which beggars any further tribute."

The Catholic Chaplains' Memorial Chapel

This Chapel, erected under the supervision of the St. Columban Fathers and paid for by the contributions of American Soldiers, was dedicated on November 4, 1953 in Seoul, Korea, by the local Bishop, The Most Rev. Paul M. Rho. The Chapel honors the five American priests who made the supreme sacrifice in the Korean Theatre of war. There were many distinguished guests at the dedication including President Syngman Rhee, Ambassador Ellis Briggs and General Maxwell D. Taylor. In the vestibule of the church is a beautiful marble plaque with this legend:

 p230  Dedicated To The Memory

Father Herman D. Felhoelter

Father Francis X. Coppens

Father Leo P. Craig

Father Emil J. Kapaun

Father Lawrence F. Brunnert

And to all who gave their lives to the cause of justice, freedom and peace in Korea.

At the dedication ceremony Chaplain (Captain) Francis C. Biel paid solemn tribute to each brave priest in an eloquent sermon. Of Father Kapaun, he said, in part —

"While with the 8th Cavalry Regiment of the 1st Cavalry Division, he was awarded the Bronze Star for his heroism in action against the enemy near Kumchon, Korea. Father Kapaun was taken prisoner on 2 November, 1950, when 'although fully aware of the great danger, he voluntarily remained behind and when last seen was administering medical treatment and rendering religious rites wherever he found need. Father Kapaun died May 23, 1951, while in the hands of the enemy, after his heroic services for the prisoners of war had become legendary. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross posthumously."

Four Chaplains Award

This award was granted posthumously to Chaplain Kapaun on February 12, 1954, in a ceremony conducted on the site of the Four Chaplains' Memorial in Falls Church, Virginia. On behalf of Father Kapaun's parents, the award was received by Lt. Ray Dowe of Washington, D. C., fellow prisoner of the Chaplain. It was Lt. Dowe who thrilled all Americans by his magnificent tribute to his beloved comrade in the Saturday Evening Post of  p231 January 16, 1954, as related to Harold H. Martin.

The Four Chaplains' Award is named in honor of the four brave men — two Ministers, a Rabbi and a Priest — who voluntarily gave up their life belts and died in the sinking of the U. S. Troopship "Dorchester" in 1943. The award is presented annually to the Chaplain who best exemplifies "the spirit of the United States Armed Forces in serving God and their fellowmen."

B'nai Brith Citation

"Dear Mrs. Kapaun:

"On Saturday, February sixth, the Alexander Goode Lodge of the B'nai Brith, a Jewish Fraternal Organization, held its annual dinner at the Hotel Plaza here in New York on a date close to the anniversary of the sinking of the American transport, U. S. S. Dorchester in which four chaplains — Catholic, Protestant and Jewish — gave up their life belts to service men and so also their lives and sank with the ship beneath the arctic waves.

"Each year for the past four years this Jewish organization has sought to single out military chaplains who you their lives have exemplified the spirit of the original four who went down with the Dorchester. Should it be any cause for wonder that this group should have chosen as the outstanding Army Chaplain of the year, your own good and heroic son — Father Emil? It is true that he died nearly three years ago in North Korea, a martyr and shining example of the American priesthood, but since his death was officially ascertained only this year, the award was given to him at this time.

"Father Emil was the subject of a great eulogy at The Four Chaplains Award Dinner and Bishop Griffiths received, in my name, the enclosed check in the amount of $500.00 which is a testimonial of the Jewish Wool and Worsted Industry in New York to the sacrificial service  p232 rendered to Americans of every religious persuasion by your son.

"I pray Almighty God to console you for the loss of this wonderful, priestly son whom you gave to the Church and to America, that the spiritual and moral values for which he lived and for which he died may remain always an integral part of our great American heritage.

"With every good wish and blessing, I am

Sincerely yours,

F. Cardinal Spellman
Military Vicar"

Military Ordinariate
February 11, 1954

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Mother and Dad before a picture of their heroic son at the side altar of their parish church. (Courtesy Topeka Capital)

 p233  Seminarians Take Father Kapaun as Model

On February 26, 1954, the students of St. John's Seminary of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Camarillo, California, sent a letter to Mr. and Mrs. Kapaun:

"The Spiritual Bouquet which we at St. John's Seminary send to you is for your wonderful son, Father Emil. Father Emil means a great deal to all of us as men, but more as future priests. He served Christ to the end of his life, just as Christ did for everyone. Your son will live in the minds of all of us who heard the story of his sacrifices for God and for God's loved ones."

Seminary Burse

A peculiarly fitting tribute is being sponsored by the Knights of Columbus of the Wichita Diocese in what has been called the Chaplain Emil Kapaun Seminary Burse. The goal set was $15,000.00 but indications are that it will easily pass that mark. The interest from this fund will help to educate a replacement for Father Kapaun in the Wichita Diocese.

Knights of Columbus Council

The following letter to Bishop Carroll was written December 9, 1953:

"We Catholic men in a section of Los Angeles called Westchester have formed a new council of the Knights of Columbus. We have decided to call it the Father Emil J. Kapaun Council, after the heroic priest who died doing his duties for God and man in Korea, helping the suffering and dying in a POW Red camp.

"We are very pleased and proud to be able to use this name and my only hope is that this council lives up to all that his glorious career symbolizes."

A Minister Offers Praise

The heroic Chaplain's faithfulness to friends and the  p234 affection this aroused in their hearts stands out in every sentence of a letter of sympathy written to the priest's parents on September 14, 1953, by a Protestant Chaplain, the Rev. Arthur E. Mills, who rated as his best friends among the "sky pilots" Chaplain Kapaun and Chaplain Donald Carter. He writes in part:

"When I was alerted to accompany a unit to Korea, I asked to be assigned to the 8th Cavalry, so I could be with the two of them.

"Father was with me constantly until the last of July, 1950. He had gone to another battalion to visit the men, and when he heard that I had been seriously wounded he walked several miles to give any assistance he could render.

"I've never known a braver man, a more devoted Christian leader, a more sympathetic listener or a better friend. . . . I've prayed that he would be spared, but God rewarded him in a greater way. . . . Thank you for giving us your son. . . . He is a hero, a Saint if anyone ever was."

Memorial Library

Father Kapaun's Alma Mater, Conception Seminary, at Conception, Missouri, is constructing a new library, which will be dedicated to its illustrious alumnus.

Movie Suggested

The impact of Father Kapaun's unselfish service was seen in the response to a request by Dale Francis in his Column "Looking and Listening" in Our Sunday Visitor. This Columnist has been conducting, for years, an intelligent and effective crusade for better movies. Dale Francis recommended to his readers a filming of the life of Father Kapaun. In response to the article in his column, on this subject, he received some forty thousand signatures approving such a movie.

 p235  Memorial Plaque and Fund

December 8, 1953

"Dear Bishop Carroll:

"As secretary-treasurer of the 'Father Kapaun Prisoner of War Memorial Fund', I purposely delayed in communicating with you until the promises we made in captivity materialized in freedom. Those promises were: To erect a small memorial to Father Kapaun perpetuating the memory of this outstanding individual, both as a chaplain and as a man among men. This memorial is to be placed in the parish of his nativity and youth. The second promise was to donate a purse to charity in the fulfillment of our long cherished dream.

"Since my release from the Communist Forces in Korea on September 6, 1953, here is the progress achieved. The arrangements for the construction of the memorial have been made. The Most Reverend James McNulty of Paterson, New Jersey, and Monsignor Carlo Cianci of the St. Michael's parish, Paterson, New Jersey, are actively interested in completing the memorial. On an inclosure to this letter, a sketch of the memorial is set out in rough detail.

"From all over America, England and Puerto Rico and the Philippines contributions have been pouring in for the fund so that now my records reflect that there is more than four-fold the amount Father Kapaun had pledged to donate to charity. The citizens of Paterson, New Jersey, contributed over $1,100.00. This money will be given to Your Excellency to be used for any charity you deem necessary.

"Plans for the presentation of the memorial within not be made without first seeking counsel from Your Excellency, since there may exist questions and problems which I have been unable to foresee. At present these problems can be overcome by correspondence, as I am  p236 now in the process of reporting to my next assignment. Then final plans for the presentation of the memorial may be completed by more expeditious means. Looking forward to that day when our obscure dreams have become a reality.

Yours respectfully,

Ralph A. Nardella
Captain Infantry."

The ten man committee includes:

Capt. Ralph A. Nardella
58 Ellison Street, Paterson, New Jersey

Capt. Clarence L. Anderson, M. C.
1553‑F Pershing Drive, San Francisco, Calif.

Capt. Robert E. Burke
209 Olive Avenue, Moundsville, West Virginia

Capt. Sidney Esensten, M. C.
5412 Logan Avenue South, Minneapolis 9, Minn.

Mr. Frank Noel, c/o Associated Press
50 Rockford Plaza, New York 20, New York

Lt. Walter L. Mayo
81 Winsor Avenue, Watertown, Massachusetts

Capt. Wm. A. McClain
3314 Mohoning Avenue, Youngstown, Ohio

Major David F. MacGhee
3609 S. Church Circle, Tampa, Florida

Capt. Joseph L. O'Connor
443 B. Craig Drive, Columbus, Georgia

W. O. Felix J. McCool
129 Carr Drive, Glendale, California

The volume and variety of letters from those who knew Father Kapaun personally, and from those who knew him merely by reading accounts in magazines and newspapers, are simply astounding. Space will permit giving only a few of these tributes.

An Episcopalian clergyman, the Rev. Mr. Stanley J.  p237 Davis, the only British chaplain to be taken prisoner in Korea, testifies:

"Father Kapaun's name has become a legend among the POWs who knew him, and the memory of this heroic and gracious priest whose ministrations surmounted denominational barriers will long be revered by Catholics and Protestants alike."

Tribute from Helen Stewart
of Sepulveda, California

One of the more beautiful tributes to Father Kapaun was a magnificent hand painted scroll sent to Bishop Carroll by Helen Stewart. This woman, after reading the account of Father Kapaun in the Saturday Evening Post, sent to Bishop Carroll a handsome crayon sketch of the Chaplain and an exquisite poem in blank verse which she entitled, "Being Dead, he yet Speaketh". Space does not permit the entire tribute, but these few thoughts show the elegance of her verse:

Being dead, this hero-chaplain has spoken

To my wakened heart as I sit and meditate

Upon his ordeal across the sea. As with a pen

Of gold, it has winged its spirit‑way to me!

Could it be that I who've sat at home in ease

Surrounded by all comfort — heard the best of

Sermons too — no! I've never known what

Sacrifice, or suffering is, until, this Saintly

Soldier brushed aside all shame and shown me

By his fortitude, upon the bloody battlefield,

And in that filthy prison-camp, the beauty of

The Lamb of God!

Oh God! to think that I could ever murmur

More upon this earth, when he unwavering,

Walked in mud and mire, in snow and sleet

Holding to his breast the dying, as Father,

 p238  As Shepherd, 'til the very last. He's earned his

Heavenly rest! Being dead, he yet speaketh.

Tribute from Major Gerald Fink, U. S. M. C.

May 4, 1954

"Dear Father Tonne:

"I do not desire any credit for my work. Could I have done the crucifix in precious metals it would not the less take away from the memory of Christ or lend more to the memory of Father Kapaun, 'a man the world should know about.'

"I am extremely humble in the face of Father Kapaun's memory and the life that he led. Here was a man given to live, as 'God intended men to live'. His self sacrifice, his love of his fellowman, and even his love of his enemy marked him more saint than man. I did not know him as well as others, yet to have lived under his influence is like having bathed in the light of graciousness. As a priest of the Catholic Church, he gave to all what I am sure your Holy Father in Rome has come to expect of all his field representatives (that is to put it my own phraseology).

"With the trials and tribulations that beset our men in the hands of the Reds, with the unending onslaughts they made to shake our faith in God, with the cruelty which only man can show to man, with the hunger, the pestilence, with the deprivation all were subjected to, with the dejection, and the complete destitution we were faced with — with all these things that added to the crucible of fire that all men's souls were tested in — Father Kapaun withstood them, and showed the way and the light of the Lord. I cannot add more to his story other than to say I bear him love for showing us how a man must face his adversaries.

Captain Ralph Nardella is the man who deserves the plaudits more than anyone else for the good work that  p239 was done. Captain Ralph was a leader both spiritually and morally in the coils of captivity. He followed the leader­ship of Father Kapaun, and did for his fellowmen that which they could not do for themselves. He was selflessly devoted to his duty as an American and as a Catholic.

"I am singularly in debt to the memory of Father Kapaun and to the leader­ship of Captain Ralph Nardella for enabling me in a very small way to help my fellowmen.

"I am not a Catholic and yet because of the greatness of Father Kapaun and his Church I honor him and it in daily prayer. I have enrolled Father Kapaun's name in a perpetual member­ship of the Society of Jesus. I attended in my undergraduate days the University of Loyola. Not knowing the proto­col between his status and that of the Jesuits I felt nevertheless I could do no less for his memory with a group of educators and priests whom I consider very highly. I wish the folder sent to me by the Jesuit Seminary Association to be forwarded to Father Kapaun's parents. I feel that in this way I can honor them also, for as the tree grows so grows the branch, and may his memory do honor to very wonderful parents."

Paterson, New Jersey

"A rude cross carved by Major Gerald Fink of Chicago and used by Captain Ralph A. Nardella for religious services when both men were in a Korean Prison camp was blessed yesterday in an impressive ceremony at St. Michael's Catholic Church at the 10:00 o'clock Mass celebrated by the Most Rev. James A. McNulty, Bishop of Paterson.

"Now mounted in a handsome bronze tablet, the cross is a memorial to the heroic Catholic Chaplain, the Rev. Emil J. Kapaun of Pilsen, Kansas. In a grim prison camp,  p240 Father Kapaun won the respect of Captain Nardella and his other fellow prisoners by his utter disregard of his own safety and comfort, and his sacrificial service in behalf of all the prisoners — Protestant, Jewish or Catholic. Chaplain Kapaun died in a prison hospital May 23rd, 1951, at the age of 35.

"The crucifix and the bronze plaque will be displayed in St. Michael's Church this week and then sent to Pilsen where it will remain permanently in St. John's Church."

(Morning Call, Paterson, New Jersey
May 10, 1954)

Wichita, Kansas

In order to provide a living memorial for Chaplain Kapaun, Bishop Carroll announced that he would erect a hew high school for boys which will bear the name "Chaplain Emil J. Kapaun Memorial High School." It is hoped that this school will be ready by September of 1955.

Sacred Heart College — Wichita

Since Father Kapaun was ordained in St. John's Chapel attached to Sacred Heart College, the Sisters of the Precious Blood have established a permanent memorial room where all his personal effects, library, military uniforms, vestments, religious articles will be displayed. Thousands of visitors have already viewed these precious relics of the Chaplain.

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Page updated: 25 Dec 13