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After granting him a brief vacation, Bishop Carroll, on April 9, 1948, appointed Father Kapaun pastor of Holy Trinity Church, Timken, a predominantly Bohemian parish. There he labored until called back into service as Chaplain, October 9 of the same year. In that brief period, he captured the hearts of the people just as he later won the esteem of the fellows in the foxholes of Korea. Everyone with whom he came in contact — businessmen, farmers, priests — attested to the warmth his own sunny nature evoked in his fellow men.
Joe Fiala, operator of a bowling recreation hall, threw up his hands in surprise when asked if he remembered the priest. "Do I remember him? He used to bowl with me and the boys. The Father was a man's man and one of the best sports I have ever known.
"I'm not a Catholic, but that did not make any difference," Fiala added. "Everybody around here, Protestant and Catholic, liked him." Fiala said that Father Kapaun never discussed differences of religion unless he was asked. His sincerity in his faith was very deep.
As Father Clupny, present pastor of Timken, summed it up: "He was the most wonderful man I ever met"; adding, "a saint is the best possible description of Father Kapaun I could give. A go‑getter —" Father Clupny reflected, "No, I would rather say he was a go‑giver. That would better describe his spirit of service to others."
His ministry was always spiced with smiles and flashes p109 of humor as attested by a former parishioner, Mrs. Leonard Finger of Larned, Kansas, February 10, 1954:
"Dear Father Tonne,
"We are enclosing a picture and a letter, which we hope will be of some help to you in writing the biography of Father Kapaun.
"The picture was taken at Timken on May 11, 1948, on the occasion of our double wedding at which Father Kapaun officiated at a Solemn High Nuptial Mass. As far as we know, this was the only double wedding ceremony that Father performed as he made some remark that he hoped he would do it right.
"His sense of humor add much to his personality and did not take away any of his priestly dignity."
A good priest's influence goes on and on, as seen in these lines from one he inspired:
Cathedral of the Sacred Heart
Dodge City, Kansas
July 27, 1953
"Dear Mr. & Mrs. Kapaun:
"Perhaps you do not remember me. I met you when I was a seminarian and Father Emil was taking me to the Seminary. We stopped at your place.
"Please let me give you my deepest sympathy, but do not let this renew your sorrow, rather may it comfort you to know that he was so good and brave. I am from Timken. If I had not met Father and received his encouragement, I would never have been ordained a priest. His kindness and holy example prompted me to go back to the Seminary. He was my model of a good priest. The wonderful reports that have come from those who knew him over there prove Hisº model was Our Blessed Lord. I want to fill in that great loss just a little and to follow in his footsteps. Ever since I was ordained, May 20, 1951, I have prayed p110 for his welfare. I used to pray for him before I fell asleep at night and hoped some day to give him my first priestly blessing. But now that must wait until we meet in heaven. I have saved every letter I ever received from him and also the last he sent me in October of 1950, which he wrote while riding in a jeep.
"Even though you miss him greatly, you can still feel proud of a son like him. I shall miss him, but he will always be remembered in all my Masses and prayers — of that you can be sure.
"If there is anything I can do for you at any time, just let me know and I'll be more than happy to help. In the meantime, you also are being remembered in Holy Masses and prayers for I feel I owe you something for knowing good Father Emil as I did.
"When I am around Pilsen, I'll drop in to see you.
Devotedly in Christ,
Father Fred Tuzicka"
As at Pilsen and elsewhere, so in Timken Father spent many a perspiring hour mowing lawns and tidying up the grounds. When Father called for volunteers on some parish project, twice as many as he needed turned up. Once he asked for help in removing some gravel near the church. The four men who arrived first were chosen to do the work. They were to take turns wheeling the loaded barrow. Although the men said he should merely stand by and direct, Father insisted on taking his turn. He worked so intensely that, whenever parish business called him away, the quartet would take time out for a brief respite!
A zealous shepherd of souls
Although he seemed supremely happy, there was growing in his priestly heart the conviction that his services were of much greater need in the Army than on the home front. Once again he wrote to his Bishop:
Holy Trinity Church
September 1, 1948
"Most Reverend and dear Bishop:
"The reason I am willing to go back to active duty is the same for which Bishop Winkelmann permitted me to join the reserves; namely that we would have priests who are trained to go into duty immediately when the need came.
"If the choice depended only on personal desires, I would never wish to relinquish my work here in Timken for work in the Army. But in matters such as these, I believe a priest should be desirous of offering himself even though he personally would prefer to remain in the diocese. I have grown to love these people very much; but, in conscience, I believe I should offer myself for work in the Armed Forces, especially in this crisis.
"If you wish to discuss this matter with me, I shall be happy to call on you at Wichita any time you arrange. (However, on September 8, I have arranged to validate a marriage here in Timken.)"
On September 25, 1948, he received permission to re‑enlist. While waiting for active service, he assisted at Pilsen. In his church announcements for October 17, he shows his habitual interest in the neatness of the parish grounds:
"Your pastor, Father Goracy, will return late this week. It would be a very helpful gesture if we could get a group of men on Tuesday morning to come with grass hooks, rakes, and tools to clean out the spots where the lawn mower cannot reach so that the church grounds will be attractive for autumn and winter. If a number of men can come, we should be able to complete the work in a few hours."
p113 The work, of course, was finished in record time.
Proud parents of a soldier priest
On November 15, he was assigned to Fort Bliss, Texas, where he served with the Anti-Aircraft Artillery Corps until January 1, 1950. He tells his bishop about it:
El Paso, Texas
November 26, 1948
"Most Reverend and dear Bishop:
"At last I have received an assignment with a definite outfit, so I am forwarding my address. Our 35th Brigade is just activating, and really we are starting from 'scratch'. I do not have one bit of equipment for my office; my chapel is just being fixed. The building had been vacated about two years ago. Since then the interior accumulated a good portion of dust and dirt. We are still cleaning and varnishing the floor and hope to have it completely finished and furnished by January when we expect to have some 6,000 soldiers in my outfit alone. Altogether, we are supposed to have some 30,000 soldiers here by January or February, and there are only two Catholic Chaplains. A tremendous task!
"Today I met Bishop Metzger of El Paso. He just returned from the Bishops' meeting in Washington. I gave him your greetings; he told me he knew you very well. He was very gracious to me.
"Our camp is on the outskirts of El Paso, in 'Logan Heights', at the foot of a mountain, overlooking the desert. We can see at least •40 miles, to the next mountain range. Not even grass will grow here — just cactus and a sort of sickly looking weed. It is very dusty, and the desert sand sometimes blows so hard that it takes the paint off my car. I am holding my typewriter on my knees and am sitting on my bunk, my only piece of furniture. The wind is trying desperately to blow away our little shack, but I hope it does not succeed. Every few minutes we receive a fresh 'bath' of dust as it filters into this hut. The nights are cold and freezing, but the days are fairly warm. This army life is not what one would call comfortable, but I like it. It is like a camping trip, and the soldiers are very appreciative of what we do for them. p115 The Chaplain is given a very influential and important role in the training of the men, even more so than during my last tour of duty two years ago. So you see I am a happy man, and I know that there is so much good that can be done here with these young men. I am most grateful that I had a special training in Catholic University concerning 'youth and character'!"
Fort Bliss, Texas
March 18, 1949
"Most Reverend and dear Bishop:
"I feel ashamed of myself for getting in my monthly report so very late. Things have been piling up, especially after I had to spend two days in bed with blood poisoning, and then hobble around on crutches for a few days more. I think the infection is just about over now.
"Our new soldiers are coming in constantly. We were even fortunate enough to receive another Catholic Chaplain, Father Murphy from Boston. We needed him very much and we still need more Chaplains as the new units are from 40% to 60% Catholics.
"I have been receiving letters and the weekly issues of the Advance Register. They are always very welcome up here in this neck of the desert.
"Our soldiers have been responding very well to daily Mass and Lenten devotions of the Stations of the Cross and Novena to the Blessed Virgin. We have had several soldiers directly from Ireland, so yesterday we had to have a special turn‑out for St. Patrick's Day. I even received a genuine shamrock direct from Ireland from the parents of one of my Irish soldiers. These Irish lads surely do have the faith, and a brogue as thick as gravy. "
To the Leonard Schneiders of Timken he wrote September 11, 1949:
"Do you know how a fellow feels after he has committed p116 a big crime, and then has to face his loved ones? I am feeling somewhat like such a fellow as I write these lines. Please excuse me for being so terribly negligent. Many a time have I thought of Timken and its wonderful people.
"I want to thank you for the wonderful letter you wrote me from Halstead and for all the nice presents. They were wonderful, especially the fruit cake. Congratulations to Ethel Mae and LaVern on their marriage in May. You see how very far behind I am. I hope that all of you are well, and I am sure you are busy. If you ever come in the direction of El Paso, Texas, please stop at Chapel No. 2 at Logan Heights (one part of Fort Bliss) and say hello to an old 'beat up' Chaplain. At the end of my first week here, my Commanding General, a very fine man who takes an exceptionally keen interest in the work of his Chaplains, told me that I had not done my duty. I disagreed, and told him so in no uncertain terms. Ever since, he has been wonderful to me. Since my already last November 12, I have had no more than four hours off duty. The soldiers are wonderful to work with. They jam my chapel on Sundays, and quite a number come to daily Mass and some to daily Communion. Four soldiers intend to study for the priesthood, and two others are planning to enter the brotherhood. (They watch me very closely — so I have to give them a good example at any time.) I am kept busy giving convert instructions, marriage people, burying the returning war dead and baptizing babies. Sometimes I think how nice I had it in Timken compared with the 'primitive' way we live here with the soldiers. I miss the people of Timken, but when I think how the soldiers need a priest with them, I am most happy that the Bishop saw fit to send me to work with them. I love them and have their affection.
"I am located in Chapel No. 2. I keep the Blessed Sacrament here on the Altar. We have it fixed up very p117 nice, and many of the soldiers come in to make visits to the Blessed Sacrament. At the end of October my soldiers will finish their training and go to their 'battle stations'. When they leave, new soldiers will come in. And I will remain right here to take them over. I was due for overseas in November, but the way it looks they will not take me because we are so terribly short of Catholic Chaplains.
"When our outfit went out into the desert for practice firing of the guns, my Colonel said to me: 'Padre, I want you to come out and fire the first shot.' So I fired that big gun. I was more frightened than anything else, for this is the biggest anti-aircraft gun our country has. It weighs •about 34,000 pounds.
"I must close. Although you hear very rarely from me, I assure you I have not forgotten all the kindnesses of the good people of Timken Parish. May God bless all of you."
In late October he received his "alert" orders and so notified Bishop Carroll:
Fort Bliss, Texas
November 1, 1949
"Most Reverend and dear Bishop:
"I have been alerted for overseas duty. I am supposed to be at the Port of Embarkation at Seattle, Washington, no later than January 2, 1950, for shipment to Yokohama, Japan. My soldiers will have left Fort Bliss by December 8. I have been thinking of taking a leave around December 12, and spending Christmas in the Wichita Diocese. I might spend part of Christmas Day with my parents. If you wish me to help out in some parish for the holidays, please let me know. I shall be glad to be of any help."
No matter how busy Bishop Carroll's schedule, he p118 answered every letter and monthly report of his chaplain. The following is typical:
November 1, 1949
"Dear Father Kapaun:
"I have just returned to Wichita a few moments ago after a long Confirmation tour in the Eastern part of Kansas. I wish to thank you sincerely for your very fine letter and the usual monthly report of your spiritual activity at Fort Bliss.
"Naturally, I was quite surprised to learn that you will be sent to Japan. You may be sure that I will not say anything about it until you give me the green light. At the proper time you can tell me and there will be a little write‑up of your going in the Advance Register."
December 12, 1949, Father came to Pilsen for what proved his final vacation. To several friends and priests, he confided his fear that the Korean War would be a 'bloody' struggle.
He took time two days before Christmas to drop in at the farm home of Virgil Allen, a convert, who was recuperating from a serious spinal operation. The two hours Father spent with him were two of the most enjoyable Allen ever experienced. "I'll never forget him," he said, "for his cheerful and consoling visit, and the fact that he so generously gave me some of the precious moments of his leave."
Father Kapaun assisted at solemn Midnight Mass in his native parish and the next day left for the West Coast in his own car accompanied by Joseph Meysing, a neighbor, on the first lap of his trip to Korea.
"Father Kapaun stopped here at Belpre, writes Father Vesecky, a close friend, "and paid me a visit on his way to Korea. Call it what you wish, but he told me that he probably would never return. He mentioned that the p119 Korean War was terrible and that it would get worse and that very many of the boys would not return. We wrote back and forth until his capture. I have as a keepsake from him, a large handmade bronze pyx that was made by one of 'his boys' as he called him."
On the west coast before departure for Japan, December 30, 1949
From San Francisco, Meysing returned by train to Kansas, and Father Kapaun continued his journey to Fort Lawton, Seattle, Washington.
From Fort Lawton, Chaplain Kapaun went to the Port of Embarkation, Seattle, where he was processed for travel and where he remained until January 22, 1950. Future communications were from Japan.
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