Korean War Chaplains honored
July 31, 2013
The 238th Chaplain's Anniversary highlighted Korean War chaplains and chaplain assistants with special recognition being given to Medal of Honor recipient Chaplain (Captain) Emil J. Kapaun during a ceremony in the Memorial Chapel at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va., 26 July, 2013.
"Our past helps teach us the way ahead," said Major General Donald L. Rutherford, U.S. Army Chief of Chaplains. "As we celebrate our 238th Anniversary, I encourage you to take a moment each morning, and consider the reflection in your mirror."
Rutherford and Sergeant Major Stephen A. Stott, Regimental Sergeant Major of the Chaplain Corps, laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and at Chaplain's Hill in Arlington National Cemetery, as part of the anniversary activities.
According to Mark W. Johnson, U.S. Army Chaplain Corps Branch Historian, the eight chaplains lost in 1950 were all members of the pre-war Chaplain Corps. Six were veterans of World War Two. All rose to the challenges that came with ministering to Soldiers under fire.
The theme of the Anniversary was celebrating and honoring Korean War chaplains and chaplain assistants. Medal of Honor recipient, Chaplain (Captain) Emil J. Kapaun was honored during the event. Kapaun served in the 3rd Battalion, 8th Calvary Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. He was captured in Unsan, Korea, November 1950. In the camp, Kapaun tried to keep the spirits of comrades high even while his own suffering continued.
"Although he was devout in his faith, Chaplain Kapaun never forced his faith on anyone," said Rutherford. "Instead he wrote letters to families, scrounged for food, passed his pipe around for a few quick puffs, and ran through machine gun fire to rescue the wounded."
"On July 18th, we landed in Korea, I was with the 1st Calvary Division. On July 19th, Father Kapaun came around and asked if anybody wanted to be baptized, so I was the first one to be baptized by Father Kapaun," said Master Sergeant (Retired) Joe Ramirez who served with Kapaun. "Then we moved forward and we had a lot of skirmishes with the enemy and he was up there with us on the frontline and now and then he would help me carry my ammo, and my commo wire."
"It was 50 below zero and he kept giving encouragement," said Ramirez, who was a prisoner of war for 33 months and one day. "I still have him in my heart."
"He is just one of the greatest guys I've ever known, certainly the greatest man I ever knew. It's hard to encapsulate it," said Colonel (Retired) Mike Dowe, who served with Chaplain Kapaun. "I met him when we were carrying stretchers of the wounded on one of the death marches, the Chinese were saying 'Don't pay any attention to your officers, you're prisoners now.' He nevertheless encouraged people to carry the wounded, if any dropped off, they would be shot."
"I can't do Father justice. I really can't. There are stories about him that just go on and on. From his first sermon there, to defying the Chinese on Easter when he was becoming ill," said Dowe. "The Chinese were just afraid he was going to get well again. They were afraid of him."
On April 11, 2013 President Barack Obama presented the Medal of Honor posthumously to Chaplain Kapaun's nephew, Ray Kapaun, during a ceremony at the White House. According to press reports, in 1993 Chaplain Kapaun, a Roman Catholic, was named a Servant of God by the Roman Catholic Church, which is the first step to possible sainthood.
According to Chaplain (Colonel) Michael E. Brainerd, U.S. Army Military District of Washington, Chief of Chaplains, "It is an honor to serve in a Corps with legacy brothers and sisters like Chaplain Emil Kapaun."