Chaplains prep for commemorative walk
May 8, 2014
FORT SILL, Okla. May 8, 2014 -- Staff Sgt. Braden Meyer, 214th Fires Brigade chaplain assistant, and Fort Sill installation chaplain (Col.) Matthew Pawlikowski, are working together to organize a team of chaplains and chaplain assistants to participate in the annual Pilsen Pilgrimage.
The pilgrimage is a three-day, 60-mile walk that honors Army Chaplain (Capt.) Emil Kapaun, a Medal of Honor recipient from the Korean War, who following capture by Chinese forces in 1950 selflessly assisted and carried for wounded comrades during an 87-mile forced march to a prison camp.
"This is an event to honor one of our fallen heroes, the very embodiment of an Army chaplain, and we want to raise awareness about the valor and duties of the Army's chaplain corps," said Meyer, the Fort Sill group's noncommissioned officer in charge.
The idea to participate in the pilgrimage came from Pawlikowski following a widely enjoyed installation unit ministry team ruckmarch in January. Since then, a group of 16 Soldiers and civilians from across post train with Crossfit-style workouts and ruckmarches three times a week to prepare their legs and minds for the grueling event. To make the task more difficult, the group intends to carry a 120-pound stretcher the pilgrimage's entire 60 miles to honor of Kapaun's heroic deeds in Korea.
"We've had to develop new types of carries to keep from wearing out," explained Meyer. "By changing carries and socks often, we keep ourselves fresh, helping to prevent dehydration and other injuries."
Organizing the team has been no small task for Meyer and Pawlikowski, who keep abreast of their daily duties on top of watching the weather for training opportunities, updating risk management assessments for training and keeping their team motivated for what is a long and difficult road ahead. Organizing the group is no easy task either. Some participants, such as Maj. Jerrod Glenn, incoming 214th Fires Brigade chaplain, have yet to arrive in person and others are at new duty stations.
In their history, only nine chaplains have been awarded the Medal of Honor while countless Soldiers have benefited from their services. The Fort Sill participants in the Pilsen Pilgrimage wish to draw attention to the heroism and selfless service of their branch's history. The also hope to attract the attention and interest of chaplains and chaplain assistants to make the annual event an Armywide recognition of Kapaun's actions and those of all unit ministry teams.
Walking twenty miles is an accomplishment all on its own miles while carrying a weighted stretcher kicks it up to a whole new level," said Pawlikowski. "I'm now confident that everyone who walked with us this past Saturday can complete the entire event at the end of the month."
In addition to honoring Kapaun, Pawlikowski said the pilgrimage also honors a whole group of men who became POWs during the Korean War and endured hardships most would find hard even to imagine.
"I hope to give a good showing to the American public that Soldiers remember and honor those who have gone before us," he said.
Kapaun was born to Czech immigrants in Pilsen, Kan. in 1915. After attending seminary at Conception Abbey Seminary in St. Louis and Catholic University and a stint as a priest in his hometown, Kapaun joined the Army as a chaplain in 1943. He served in the Chinese-Burma Theater in World War II and then in Korea in 1950.
It was there that he became famous for his heroics of tending to wounded Soldiers under fire and performing Mass from the hood of his Jeep. As with all heroes, Kapaun's heroism was displayed under the most adverse conditions, namely his time spent enduring torture and starvation in the POW camp where he died following his capture in the Battle of Unsan. The Catholic Church is in the process of canonizing Kapaun and endowing sainthood upon him.
"It is important to recognize the past and understand that the actions and experiences of those before us are sometimes unfathomable," said Meyer. "I think there is a part of all of us that look at Chaplain Kapaun's deeds and want to know that if we faced what he faced, would we have the will to do so."