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Bill Thayer

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The Story of Chaplain Kapaun
Patriot Priest of the Korean Conflict
Father Arthur Tonne

[image ALT: A head-and‑shoulders photograph portrait of a young man in the dress uniform (with hat) of a mid‑20c American army officer. His lapel insignia are a Latin cross. He is Capt. Fr. Emil J. Kapaun.]

This book tells the story of an extraordinary man, a Catholic priest and United States Army officer who died at the hands of Chinese and North Korean Communists; but more importantly, during the time of his service in Korea and his captivity under appalling conditions, who lived what most of us would call a life of heroic virtue. The United States Government has awarded him the Medal of Honor, the highest recognition it has to give; the Roman Catholic Church has opened the cause for his beatification.

At the same time, Emil Kapaun — his name by the way is pronounced KəPÓN — was remarkable in being the most ordinary of men; not only my own powerful impression of him in reading his life, but the impression as well (p32) of a man who knew him in high school and college seminary. This average Kansas boy became a priest, as many do; and enlisted in the Army, an even commoner life path; as we move through his life with him, we get a good look at mid‑America in the 1950's and at the Korean War.

By the sheerest of accidents, Capt. Kapaun's voice has been preserved, in a patch of four minutes of a radio homily he gave over the Armed Forces Network; with singular appropriateness, it is on two of the Beatitudes: "Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God," and "Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." This recording can be heard onsite.

Two much more recent biographies of Father Kapaun have been published:

A Shepherd in Combat Boots by William L. Maher (Burd Street Press, Shippensburg, PA, 1997)

A Saint Among Us by The Father Kapaun Guild (Hillsboro Free Press, Hillsboro, KS, 2006).

These, and the book I have transcribed here, were once all in print and could be ordered from the Father Kapaun Guild via its website, benefiting the cause for Capt. Kapaun's beatification; now, it's not clear to me but it appears those print runs are exhausted.

Finally, news on his cause and many stories relating to Fr. Kapaun can be found on the site of the Marion Record.

In the Midst of the Teachers


Wisdom, Age, and Grace


Thou Art a Priest Forever


The Good Shepherd


Soldiering for God


Burma and India


Academic Interim


Pastor of Timken — In Uniform Again




Tomorrow — Combat


Willing Captive


A Lieutenant Reflects


Out of the Heart the Mouth Speaketh


"He Was Transfigured Before Them"


We Called It 'Christ in Barbed Wire'


Military Awards


Memorial Mass


Universal Acclaim


Coming of the Magi


Dates and Events in the Life of Chaplain Kapaun


[decorative delimiter]

Technical Details

Edition Used

The edition transcribed here is the original — and to my knowledge only — edition, published by Didde Publishers, Emporia, KS, 1954. It has fallen into the public domain because the 1954 copyright was not renewed in either 1981 or 1982 in accordance with the requirements of the law of that time: details here on the copyright law involved.


The book is profusely illustrated, with 70 black-and‑white photographs. The quality of these photos varies: some are from newspapers of the time, others are amateur snapshots, yet others suffer from various flaws: and none, unfortunately, has been improved by the printing. For this reason, whenever possible, I used any better copies of those same photographs that I managed to find online; but those were few, and the bulk of the illustrations are as I scanned them from my copy of the book.

Yet technically poor though some of these images may be, especially the home snapshots, many of them have an iconic quality that speaks perfectly to the essential ordinariness of Capt. Kapaun and his Midwest American background. Some of the photos are actually quite wonderful; my favorite: Father Emil as an 11‑month-old baby, with supporting cast. The illustrations were also very well placed by the author, and I've basically not moved them at all from where they are in the printed text.

There is no table of illustrations in the printed book. It didn't seem useful to me to add one; and not having one just might encourage reading the accompanying text rather than merely mining the book for a picture.


As almost always, I retyped the text by hand rather than scanning it — not only to minimize errors prior to proofreading, but as an opportunity for me to become intimately familiar with the work, an exercise which I heartily recommend: Qui scribit, bis legit. (Well-meaning attempts to get me to scan text, if success­ful, would merely turn me into some kind of machine: gambit declined.)

This transcription has been minutely proofread. In the table of contents above, the sections are shown on blue backgrounds, indicating that I believe the text of them to be completely errorfree. As elsewhere onsite, the header bar at the top of each chapter's webpage will remind you with the same color scheme.

The edition I followed was well proofread, with very few typographical errors. I marked my corrections, when important (or unavoidable because inside a link), with a bullet like this;º and when trivial, with a dotted underscore like this: as elsewhere on my site, glide your cursor over the bullet or the underscored words to read the variant. Similarly, bullets before measurements provide conversions to metric, e.g., 10 miles.

A small number of odd spellings, curious turns of phrase, etc. have been marked <!‑‑ sic  in the sourcecode, just to confirm that they were checked.

Any over­looked mistakes, please drop me a line, of course: especially if you have a copy of the printed book in front of you.

Pagination and Local Links

For citation and indexing purposes, the pagination is shown in the right margin of the text at the page turns (like at the end of this line); p57  these are also local anchors. Sticklers for total accuracy will of course find the anchor at its exact place in the sourcecode.

In addition, I've inserted a number of other local anchors: whatever links might be required to accommodate the author's own cross-references, as well as a few others for my own purposes. If in turn you have a website and would like to target a link to some specific passage of the text, please let me know: I'll be glad to insert a local anchor there as well.

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Site updated: 26 Apr 21