By U.S. ArmyApril 12, 2013
Good afternoon. Thank you everyone for coming here today as we honor Chaplain Emil Kapaun. He was a man of deep conviction and great piety, with an intrinsic love for his fellow man, the Army and his Country.
Like Chaplain Kapaun, our Army chaplains experience and understand first-hand the unique challenges that Soldiers and families may encounter in military service. The conflicts may change but the comfort and compassion of Army chaplains remains constant, unyielding and indiscriminate. Chaplain Kapaun is the 7th military chaplain to be awarded the Medal of Honor. It speaks volumes to the character of this extraordinary Soldier who was also awarded the Legion of Merit and Bronze Star Medal with "V" device for valor.
Though it is reported that Chaplain Kapaun never fired a single bullet, he saved hundreds, if not thousands, of lives -- physically, mentally, and spiritually. He possessed a striking humility, fearless courage, and unconditional love for the men who fought at his side. His unconquerable spirit earned him the trust and respect of every person he came in contact with, on and off the battlefield. Frankly, he epitomized the essence of a Soldier - the inherent trust and unspoken devotion to one another. All of you know that war is very personal. It is about fighting for those on your right and on your left to achieve something greater than yourself; it is about embodying our moral and ethical values and having the physical courage necessary to accomplish the mission.
I want to welcome all distinguished guests: Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Secretary John McHugh, Senator Pat Roberts -- Member of Congress from Kansas, Gen. (Ret) Skip Sharp -- the Honorary Chairman of the 60th Anniversary of the Korean War Commemoration, Congressman Mike Pompeo, Ltg. (Ret) Bob Foley and 1st Lt. (Ret) Brian Thacker -- former Medal of Honor Recipients, and Sergeant Major of the Army Ray Chandler.
Chaplain Kapaun had one brother, Eugene who passed away in 2010. Unfortunately, Eugene's widow is unable to be here today but she is here in spirit. Chaplain Kapaun's nephew, Ray and Ray's wife, Lee Ann Kapaun are here. Thank you so much for being here -- for this Ceremony and for this whole process. Angela Gerlach -- his niece, Kenny Kapaun -- his nephew, and David Kapaun -- his nephew. Thank you all for being here today.
We are also honored to have Korean War Veterans and former prisoners of war who served alongside Father Kapaun here today. I would like to recognize these prisoners of war -- so would you all please stand to be recognized: Gerald Cavagnaro, Richard Caverly, Mike Dowe, Robert McGreevy, Herbert Miller, Joe Ramirez, William Richardson, Paul Roach and Robert Wood.
Chaplain Emil Kapaun gave his first mass in 1940 in the small farming town of Pilsen, Kansas. He immediately immersed himself in the care of souls which marked his life of service to God and Country. Ten years later and 7,000 miles away on the other side of the world, Chaplain Kapaun spent All Saints Day on November 1st, 1950 saying four masses for the men of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. Chaplain Kapaun was where he wanted to be - with, in his own words, "my boys."
The Soldiers of 8th Cavalry Regiment had little reason to suspect the imminent onslaught by the Chinese forces who had surrounded the small village of Unsan. Late that afternoon, the Peoples Volunteer Army launched a surprise perimeter attack on the US and Republic of Korea Soldiers. After 36 hours of hand-to-hand fighting, the 800 men of 3rd Battalion were isolated against thousands of Chinese peasant Soldiers. In the middle of the firefight, amidst a barrage of artillery, machine gun, bazooka and small arms fire, was Chaplain Kapaun. All the men who served at his side attest that he cared for them as Soldiers and as men--regardless of their religious faith, or absence thereof.
He huddled a group of men together and ministered to each according to their respective traditions-- in many cases, giving them the last rites, because he candidly told them "a lot of you guys are not going to make it home."
To each of them, he was Father. He gave those men the hope and courage they needed to fight, reaffirming their will to live. There on the battlefield, with mortar fire coming in and the enemy massing around him, he raced foxhole to foxhole, hearing confessions, treating the wounded and saying prayers over the dying. Multiple times, he had the chance to retreat to safety but there was never a question in his mind where he belonged, as he insisted "my place is with the wounded."
Chaplain Kapaun was able to convince a Chinese Soldier to negotiate the safe surrender of the American forces, saving 40 wounded men. Then, in an act of ultimate defiance against his captors, Chaplain Kapaun calmly walked over to a Chinese Soldier who had the muzzle of his weapon against the forehead of wounded Sgt. 1st Class Herbert Miller, ready to take his life. Chaplain Kapaun casually pushed aside the executioner who stood frozen in disbelief, picked up Sgt. 1st Class Miller, put him on his back and walked away, both of them untouched.
Such was the power of unspoken influence and leadership that Chaplain Kapaun had. Even though he wore the cross of the Corps of Chaplains insignia on his collar and not the crossed rifles of the infantry, he was a hero of the Battle of Unsan, and the many days that followed.
8th Cavalry Regiment lost over 600 Soldiers in the battle. It is perhaps no coincidence that November 2nd fell on the Catholic holiday of All Souls Day. On that day and for the next 19 months until his death, Chaplain Kapaun and his comrades were held as prisoners of war by the Chinese. Through months of starvation, abuse and torture, sickness and death, his spirit, his faith, and his dry sense of humor never faltered.
In fact, in a conversation with a fellow POW, Bob Wood, he revealed that this was his second time in the Army and his second war. Chaplain Kapaun had served in WWII in the China-Burma-India Campaign. After two years in the Army, he went home to Kansas but reenlisted again in 1948. Bob Wood was shocked, and asked him "why did you ever decide to rejoin the Army a second time? Chaplain Kapaun, who was emaciated and bruised, his body ravaged by dysentery, pneumonia and a blood clot said without pause: "Well, my God, Bob, did you ever have to deal with one of those women's church groups?"
The true story here is that Chaplain Kapaun ministered until the end - giving the last rites to a dying prisoner, writing the Our Father and Hail Mary on a scrap of paper which he gave to another prisoner, and in his final hour, hearing the confession of yet another fellow prisoner. His fellow Soldiers, for whom he gave his last dying breath, meant more to him than life.
His actions reflect the extraordinary courage, uncommon valor and ethos of our Soldiers and our Chaplains today. His legacy will live on forever in the hearts of future generations and most importantly, in our souls, to what he truly believed in. He believed in man. He believed in those who stood side by side with him. That's what was most important to him, and that will live on for generations.
The strength of our Nation is our Army, the strength of our Army is our Soldiers, the strength of our Soldiers is our Families, and that's what makes us Army Strong!