This week’s Whiskey Man and patriot is Fr. Emil Kapaun, Servant of God and Medal of Honor Recipient. Honored one week ago, Fr. Emil Kapaun was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. His heroics actions both as a priest and as an American are an inspiration to us all.
Fr. Emil Kapaun was born in 1916 in the middle-of-nowhere Kansas. His parents were Catholic Czech immigrant farmers who had moved to the U.S. in search of a better life. This hope in America and their strong Catholic Faith formed Emil as he grew, and he entered seminary in Missouri after graduating from High School. At the age of only 24, he was ordained a Priest of the Diocese of Wichita, Kansas.
In 1944, during World War II, Fr. Kapaun signed up to join the Army. Originally stationed at a base in Georgia, he was eventually sent throughout the world. Renowned for his devotion to both his Faith and those under his care, he served both in areas as diverse as Texas, India, Japan, and finally Korea. After entering the Army, he only returned the U.S. for a couple years when he pursued a Masters degree at Catholic University of America and then was later stationed in El Paso, Texas. In 1949 he left the U.S. for the last time.
He was initially sent to Japan where he again worked at a military base, until fighting broke out in Korea. As soon as North Korea invaded the South, most of the soldiers, including Fr. Kapaun, were immediately sent to the Korean Peninsula. During the Korean War, he was awarded the Bronze Star for his continued service to the Soldiers, often offering Mass in dangerous locations. He brought his Mass kit with him wherever he went, and as Military Chaplains had special exemptions, celebrated Mass on the front of a Jeep. He began gaining renown for never backing down from any situation, often running onto the battlefield to give his men Last Rights.
In November of 1950, he was captured as a POW and marched nearly 90 miles to a prison camp in North Korea. In the camp, he often sacrificed his own provisions to take care of the other POWs and would steal further supplies. He would even perform manual labor for others, offering them rest when they could not handle any more. This continued sacrifice of his body took a continued toll on his health, and he eventually contracted several diseases that he was not able to fight. He did manage to celebrate Easter Mass for the other POWs on Easter Sunday, 1951. The guards, who had begun to respect him deeply, eventually took him out of the prison and into a hospital. He died several months later due to his illnesses.
In 2012, more than 60 years after his death, Senate authorized the posthumous awarding of the Medal of Honor to Fr. Emil Kapaun. On April 11th, 2013, his nephew was presented with his medal.
In 1993, Fr. Kapaun was named a Servant of God and his cause for canonization was opened. There have been several reports of miracles due to his intercession, and investigations have been opened into determining their authenticity.
Fr. Kapaun was a man who gave everything in service to those under his care. He was an instrument of grace to the soldiers in the worst situations on Earth. His memory has been carried on by those soldiers whom he helped. May we all look to Fr. Kapaun as both an ideal Catholic and American. His record of service to both have been deemed heroic.
Fr. Emil Kapaun, Servant of God, Pray for us.