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Chapter 8

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 10

 p120  Chapter Nine


February 10, 1950

"Most Reverend and dear Bishop:

"At last we put our feet on solid soil again. We were at sea from January 23 till February 7. The first two days were rough, as we were in the land swells of the western coast of the U. S. A. The ship rocked and heaved and many of us were sick as dogs. I was among the casualties for a whole week. The first few days aboard ship I could not say Mass. But after these first two days of discomfort, I could safely say Mass although there still remained a slight nauseated feeling. The other days at sea were incidental.

"There are many interesting things in Japan. I was very much impressed by the attitude of the people. They seem to be clean and neat and courteous. Yesterday, four officers and myself were walking to our headquarters. An old Japanese stepped off the street into the gutter and bowed very graciously. We did not like so much ceremony, but I guess he wanted to show us courtesy. We bowed back and greeted him. Other people on the street greet us with a slight bow of the head. I guess they do not know how to say 'hello' or 'good morning' in English, and we do not know how to say it in Japanese, but we accomplish in actions what we would like to say in words. I see now that I am going to be studying the Japanese language! A fellow at least should be able to exchange the ordinary courtesies."

The same day he wrote to his parents about his ocean  p121 trip. Two weeks later he wrote:

"Dear Dad and Mom,

"I bet you think I got lost. How are you? I am fine and getting fatter every day. It freezes here, but the days are warm and sunny.

"I am assigned to the Cavalry Regiment, but we do not have any horses. We are just plain infantry — you know — walking and marching. We are located right in the city of Tokyo, the third largest in the world. The Japanese do not mark their streets. A newcomer can get lost very easily. The streets run in every direction. It will take me some time to get used to them. The people drive on the left side of the street, and the policemen have the Japanese way of conducting traffic.

"My car arrived in fine shape. The speed limit on the highways is 35 miles per hour. A person would not dare drive faster as people are walking on the highways and pulling and pushing carts, bicycles, and little Japanese cars. They have cars and trucks that run without gas; just burn charcoal and wood. Also, they have electric cars. These run very smoothly and quietly. High octane gasoline here is 12 cents per gallon; oil is 15 cents per quart. The highways are concrete and about four lanes wide. I was very much surprised to see that. The side roads are very narrow and dirty.

"The Japanese seem glad that we are here. They are kind and courteous, and they are very hard workers. In our Officers quarters, two Japanese maids keep the rooms spotlessly clean, do our laundry and press our uniforms. I never saw anything like that in any other country. I can already speak a few words in Japanese."

To his monthly report for March, 1950, he added these revealing remarks:

"Factors affecting Religious Work: I gave 6 mixed- p122 marriage instructions and 2 convert instructions. General Remarks: According to a very recent survey our regiment is 65% Protestants, 23% Catholics, 1% Jews and 11% no religion. In the whole Regiment I have nearly 400 Catholics. I was amazed how many soldiers had not been to the Sacraments for years. They are just as neglectful about attending Mass. A number of soldiers are very faithful and are ideal Catholics. Other Catholic Chaplains have told me the same thing. It seems that the soldiers we have today come from families who have been neglectful. This situation, on the surface, looks discouraging, yet we Catholic Chaplains have a large field to work in to bring back these 'straying sheep.' It is a great joy for me to be instrumental in bringing at least a few of them back into the fold."

He describes his first experience in an earthquake, March 10, 1950:

"Dear Dad and Mom,

"How are you? I hope you are well and that you did not blow away in the March winds. Our paper said yesterday that the Middle West had some very strong winds and dust storms.

"It freezes at night, but the days are fairly comfortable. A fellow can wear an overcoat with comfort through the whole day. Before long, spring will be here. Some of the trees are starting to bloom already. I want to see the famous Japanese cherry trees bloom. They are very pretty.

"Since I have been here we have had three earthquakes. My, the earth can surely jump around. One lasted twenty minutes. The earth just kept moving and trembling and jolted back and forth. It is an awful feeling. I guess we will have to get used to it. Some of the Japanese just 'freeze' in their tracks from fright, and cannot move or  p123 talk. They become white as a sheet. Last year some old buildings collapsed in an earthquake. The soldiers tell me that before I came here they had an earthquake which tossed them right out of bed.

About forty miles from here is Mount Fuji, a volcano, the highest mountain in Japan. We can see it on a clear day, as it towers above the clouds.

"My soldiers will keep me plenty busy, especially after we go out on maneuvers. That will mean a lot of traveling. And I will get to see a lot of the country.

"I do not get much chance to drive around, except on Sunday afternoon. My car comes in handy. I would have to do a whole lot of walking without it. Today is Eugene's birthday. I guess he will have a big celebration."

March 1, 1950

"Most Reverend and dear Bishop:

"Lenten greetings to you from the Chaplain from the Wichita Diocese who is in Japan.

"At last I am located in a Chapel and with a unit of soldiers. (None of this letter is for publication as it might be alarming.) Our Division is a combat training unit. We are not occupation forces as the other units are in Japan. We are training for battle, and will be called on in event of war in this part of the world. We go on maneuvers in a couple of months.

"Kyoto, where I have been told the Sisters of St. Joseph are, is south from us. I do not know how far. It is difficult to travel by auto; the highways are wide, but bumpy, and traffic is heavy. It takes about an hour to drive 20 miles. Train service in Japan is very good, but for a person who is not acquainted with the cities nor the language of the people, it is best not to attempt to travel too far."

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Daring and devoted
Padre Kapaun

 p125  March 10, 1950

"Mr. & Mrs. Joseph Meysing and Family:

"My dear friends:

"I want to thank you for the nice letter you sent me and the description of your trip from San Francisco. I am glad that you enjoyed it and that you got to see a lot of things. You saw one thing that I did not get to see — the Golden Gate Bridge. Although I drove over it, I could not see it — the fog was so thick. Isn't that something? I have to laugh every time I think of it.

"I have a job with a unit of soldiers which will mean a lot of traveling. I like to knock around in that way. I am going to buy a camera and color film. The sights are beautiful and if I get them in color I will have some priceless remembrances of my visit in Japan.

"I saw the Emperor's grounds. No one is permitted to go there. They are surrounded by a high wall and a moat (canal of water). Right across the street from this canal is General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.MacArthur's Headquarters building, and the American flag is flying gracefully on top of it. It really is an impressive sight. It makes a fellow think, too. If I had been here five years earlier I probably would have been in some prison. The Japanese are hard workers. They have to work hard if they want to live on such a small piece of ground.

"The different automobile companies have their agencies here so a person can buy almost any kind of new car without any trouble except paying for it. Cars are higher than in the States. Ford has an assembly plant in Tokyo and the block is filled with new Fords ready to be delivered. The Japanese also have their own make of cars, much smaller than ours. Also, the Japanese have quite a few wood-burning cars, with a large stove in the back. From the fire in the stove a certain gas fume is  p126 produced and it runs just as nicely as the gas‑burning motor. In fact, these cars are equipped with a contraption on the carburetor which can be switched to burn gasoline or the fumes. This is quite a thing. If a fellow runs out of gasoline on the road, all he needs to do is to pick up some sticks, start a fire in the stove, switch over his carburetor, and off he goes again. The Japanese cars have some gadgets which we do not have in the States. They have an electric lighted pointer (red) which they switch on to show the direction they are going to turn. It is much more effective than the built‑in signal system of our cars back home. Also, they have a three-wheeled car and a small three-wheeled truck, which can haul nearly as much as a small pick‑up. I hope you have a very profitable Lent and a Blessed Easter."

April 1, 1950

"Most Reverend and dear Bishop:

'I wish to thank you for your very kind letter of last month. My previous letter must have sounded too alarming. It is true we are training to be transported by air to any zone of hostility. However, this does not mean our leaders are anticipating any actual warfare. But we are not taking any chances.

"The training schedule is very heavy. That reflects upon my weekday Masses as the soldiers have little opportunity to attend. On Sunday some soldiers prefer to get away from camp. Some go to Chapels and Churches in Tokyo; many do not go at all. I was really surprised that most of our soldiers are below normal in education and knowledge. Many come from the unemployed — and quite a number joined the Army just to get away from home. These lads need a priest very badly. I am getting some back to the Sacraments, and I think I will get some back to attending Mass."

Bishop Carroll answered in part, April 6, 1950:

 p127  "Dear Father Kapaun:

"Yes, it is shameful that so many boys have slipped away from the moorings of their faith. It was for this very reason that I permitted you to go to the Army because I felt then and feel now that these men need more attention than those at home. At home there is always a priest handy somewhere, but if there isn't a priest with the boys, then their faith is gone completely."

Part of a letter from Father to his Aunt Tena, March 9, 1950:

"I am amazed at some of the beautiful clothes of the Japanese. The women have coal-black hair, and some of them look very beautiful. Many wear clothes like people in the U. S. A., but they look more attractive in their own Japanese gowns. The little children are very cute, and all of them look very fat, plump like a ball. Their faces are round as can be, and their cheeks stick out like red apples. They eat mostly rice and vegetables and fish. They have a lot of fish markets, but they do not smell like most fish markets. There are many pretty things over here, and the Japanese are very particular in keeping everything just so. If a leaf falls on the ground, they pick it up. I never saw anything like it. They are hard workers."

April 16, 1950

"Dear Dad and Mom,

"I just got back from a 40 mile trip, and in another hour I will be starting another 40 mile trip, in a different direction.

"We had a nice Easter. The flowers were blooming, it was sunny, but cool. The way things look, I will be in Japan for two years. I like it here very much, but I will have to stop eating so much so I won't get fat. Up early in the morning, we get plenty of exercise, and sleep like a log. My clothes are getting tight.

 p128  "Every month I get a letter from Bishop Carroll. He is very good to write so regularly.

"I bet your chicks are getting big. And is your garden growing already? The wheat in Japan is about 16 inches high now. They raise wheat differently here. They plant it in rows about 12 inches apart and real thick. Then they go in between the rows and keep hoeing the ground. The largest wheat field I have seen is about the size of your garden. And the people do all the work by hand. They are now spading up their rice fields. These are about the same size as your garden. They get in there with big boots and sink down into the mud about to their knees. They have a sort of hoe with a blade like a potato fork. With this hoe they turn over the wet mud in chunks. Some of these rice fields smell as if they were sour. A fellow runs into all kinds of smells over here. They have no sewer system.

April 18, 1950

"Dear Dad and Mom,

"I want to thank you for the package. Nothing got ruined, but you should have seen the box. It looked as if they had set a big trunk on it. One end was completely smashed in. I figured everything must be almost smashed up, but it wasn't. The cookies got pretty well crumbled up, and the chocolate Easter eggs are as flat as can be, but still good. I want to thank you for going to all the bother of sending so many good things. The walnut candies are good, too. I guess you made those. I feel ashamed of myself that I did not send you something. But over here it is quite a problem to send anything. We have to get the package examined by the customs office to make sure we are not sending jewels or something very precious. We can send those things, but we must pay a luxury (customs tax) which is very high. I want to send you some pretty Japanese fans but I did not get to it yet.

 p129  "As long as Russia does not drop a bomb on Japan we will be getting along pretty well. The Japanese do not want us to leave because they are not strong enough to keep out of Russia's hands.

"In the Japanese schools they teach the children English. Of course, they are not fluent as we who speak it all the time. The children start school when they are seven years old. The Japanese have some other things which are better than we have in the States. They have electricity and power lines all over the country. Their train service is supposed to be the best in the world. The trains are right on time and they run very smoothly — most of them are electric.

"The farmers, though, are very far behind. They do everything by hand, and it is a tough job that way. The women work very hard, too, right with the men."

May 1, 1950

"Dear Dad and Mom,

"I received the nice presents, the box with the good things and the greetings with the $10.00. Thank you so very much. I had a nice birthday. Nice and quiet. Nobody knew it, so I got by easy.

"I am sending you what I still owe you. This clears me up. It feels good to be out of debt again. I hope you have no trouble getting it cashed. I want to thank you for letting me have so much money. I do not like to borrow money, but it did come in handy."

May 1, 1950

"Most Reverend and dear Bishop:

"We have been alerted for trouble during May, the month of Communist exhibitions. Just a short distance from our camp the Communists have their headquarters, flying the red flag with the hammer and sickle. I do not  p130 think the Communist officials are planning any demonstrations, but some radical individuals may cause some trouble.

"We Catholic Chaplains have a monthly 'Day of Recollection'. Last month we met at Sophia University in Tokyo. All of us profited by it. As a priest, I must refurbish my own spiritual life; only then can I take care of the arduous duties of a chaplain."

Among other things he wrote to Mr. & Mrs. Leonard W. Schneider and family, Albert, Kansas, May 4, 1950:

"I think you worry too much, Leonard. Do as I did, join the Army, see the world, and put all cares aside. (More easy said than done.) However, in the Army a fellow might think he has no cares but I guess he has more of them than at home. But I love this knocking around in the Army. Last month I made about 875 miles trying to reach my soldiers and say Mass for them. Some side roads are miserable. My assistant has a hard time keeping my jeep in running order. Last week we had four flat tires.

Thank you for the many prayers. May God reward your great kindness. You are surely wonderful for remembering what very little I did for Timken. In fact, I did nothing whatsoever. All I accomplished was to keep the lawns mowed and the cemetery clean. I had done nothing more than that, except to cause you people a lot of anxiety when I came, and then wonderment about my going into the Army again. But, here I am, happy in my work, and having plenty of it.

"My outfit is a training unit, and in case of war we will go first. It makes me feel good to think I can go right along with them. In a few days we go up into the mountain to train. However, we do not have any war scare here."

 p131  May 10, 1950

"Dear Dad and Mom,

"I did not think about Mother's Day in time to get this letter to you. I shall be remembering you on Sunday. I am so far away that I just don't get around in time to get things to you. Also this year you are celebrating your 35th Wedding Anniversary. My, how time is flying. I would have forgotten, only I began to think how old I am getting. I still remember when you celebrated your 25th Anniversary.

"I am sending you a small package with some curios from Japan. We have some of the most beautiful bushes I have ever seen. Tried to get a color camera but our store is all out.

"Lately our mail has not been coming in the way it did about a month ago. Maybe the weather has much to do with it, as the planes cannot fly in bad weather. I have a great deal of traveling to do and get to see a lot of country. Sunday I was up on Mount Fuji, the volcano. It is certainly beautiful covered with snow. The volcanic ash looks like fine ashes, and the rocks look like they had been melted and burned once upon a time. It has not erupted for several hundred years. My soldiers shoot their guns at the mountain. It makes a good backstop. A happy Mother's Day, and a Blessed Wedding Anniversary."

June 1, 1950

"Most Reverend and dear Bishop:

"I wish to thank you for your very kind letter of last month. You are most considerate to write to such an insignificant person as I am. My report of this month does not compare (in figures) with that of last month. However, this month has been one of more 'sweat'. My soldiers are scattered far apart. Making over 1,100 miles in a jeep on these bumpy mountain roads puts color into  p132 a person's cheeks, and callouses on the extremity which has to bear the bumps and shakes. I love this kind of work, even though the figures are not a true scale of one's effort. The Catholics and even the non‑Catholics admire the 'Padre' for his efforts. Several officers remarked that they do not see how I can stand such treatment over such a distance in a jeep. Such example may be of some help someday in bringing the Faith to souls who are sincere, as surely many of our non‑Catholics are.

"I mentioned 'sweat' although that word is not correct. My troops are on maneuvers up on the mountains, right next to the snow line. Even with winter underwear we just about freeze. This is the first time I ever had to wear winter underwear in May and June.

"The Advance Register comes regularly, and I love to read of the many interesting happenings in the Diocese.

"I hope the Fathers have a fruitful Retreat. We have monthly Retreats here — one whole day each month. It is like an oasis in a desert for a weary traveler."

June 5, 1950

"Dear Dad and Mom,

"Lot of rain lately, the rainy season. For over three days we did not see the sun. It reminds me of Kansas when it would rain during harvest and we would get stuck with the binder. The Japanese harvest by hand. They hold the wheat with one hand, and with the other cut it with a small hand scythe. They lay the little bunches on the ground. Everything is done very neatly and not a single head is wasted. They let the wheat dry out; then they carry it to their houses, where they have a small machine like a fanning-mill, to cut the heads off the straw.

"Right now they are planting rice, a tough job, putting each plant into the mud. They use a string to make  p133 straight rows. First they plant the rice in hot beds, then transplant into the rice paddy.

"The Japanese are also cutting mulberry branches for their silkworms. These branches grow out of stumps (just like they do in Kansas). The worms eat these mulberry leaves and branches until they start to spin a cocoon. Once the worm has the cocoon spun around itself, the Japanese boil it. The women and girls then unravel the fine silk thread of the cocoon and make it into cloth. It takes a lot of patience. Someday I will send you a piece of this genuine Japanese hand made silk."

The following are excerpts from a letter to the pastor of his home parish, June 21, 1950:

"Dear Father Goracy:

"Today I learned you had returned from Europe, so I must thank you for that souvenir letter from Rome. I shall keep it as a remembrance of the Holy Year.

"I was surprised to hear of Bishop Carroll's operation. He surely did recover fast. He is a hard man to keep down the way it looks.

"Mother wrote that the Sisters' new convent in Pilsen is progressing very nicely. I can imagine how happy you are about that.

"Well, Joe, I could write about a lot of things which I have experienced in Japan. I love it here — I guess I should not say that."

To his old pastor, Monsignor Sklenar, now living in retirement, he wrote in Bohemian, June 21, 1950:

"It is a long time since I heard from you. I hope you are not sick, or that something has happened. We have moved into a new place. We are painting the buildings and have other work to do until we it the way we want it. We are about 40 miles from Tokyo. My soldiers are on maneuvers. I am very happy, and very thankful  p134 to be an Army Chaplain.

"About two weeks ago I took tests in Czech language. I did very well — better than I expected. Maybe I will get an opportunity to be an Army Chaplain in Europe sometime."

July 1, 1950

"Most Reverend and dear Bishop:

"We are wondering what the people in the States are thinking about this Korean War. This time we are not so unprepared as we were at Pearl Harbor. We have something to use. Things have been happening very fast in the last week. It may all be over very soon, and again this may be a major conflict. If it is, my men will be right in there and I will go right in there with them. It would be very foolish to say that we are not doing anything about this situation, as surely General MacArthur would not have his troops unprepared."

July 3, 1950

"Dear Dad and Mom,

"I do not know what kind of news you have been hearing about this war scare. But things did happen in a hurry, and this time we feel very proud of being prepared for anything. This the time Russia is going to get it in the neck. The Japanese were wondering what we would do if Russia ever would start coming this way. They know now, and they think a great deal of us for calling Russia's bluff and going to stop her grabbing. As soon as the Russians started coming into Korea, we were alerted. You should have seen how quickly we got on our toes. All of Japan went into action and we were ready for anything. Some of my soldiers have already gone. Every unit is ready to act. I give General MacArthur credit for the way he does things. He not only did a good job in Japan, but he has kept his army prepared. The soldiers in our outfit are  p135 well trained and they are anxious to give the Russians a good licking.

"I hope you are not worrying about me. I am getting along fine. We are not as excited over here as some of the people in the States. Everything is peaceful around here. It hardly seems like war. The fighting is taking place about 600 miles from where we are."

Before a week had passed his unit had considerably narrowed the distance of 600 miles. Father Kapaun and "his boys" were on the way to Korea.

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