WASHINGTON, D.C. (Army News Service, July 26, 2013) -- The Army Chaplain Corps, in marking its 238th anniversary, held a memorial service for a Korean War chaplain who gave his life to save others.
In a day of solemn tributes, Army chaplains and former prisoners of war remembered Capt. Emil J. Kapaun as a selfless man who died as a prisoner of war in 1951 and was awarded the Medal of Honor earlier this year.
After a service at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va., July 26, Maj. Gen. Donald Rutherford, U.S. Army chief of chaplains, and Sgt. Maj. Stephen Stott, regimental sergeant major, U.S. Army Chaplain Corps, laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns and another at Chaplains Hill in Arlington National Cemetery, Va.
Two Soldiers who were prisoners of war with Kapaun, Mike Dowe and Joe Ramirez, attended the service. They credited the chaplain with saving their lives and the lives of many other prisoners.
Kapaun was serving with the 3rd Battalion of the 8th Cavalry Regiment, during the Battle of Unsan, when Chinese forces encircled the battalion. The chaplain, who rejected opportunities to escape in order to remain with the wounded Soldiers, was taken prisoner, Nov. 2, 1950.
Starving and enduring dismal camps, rampant illnesses and sub-zero temperatures, the prisoners found hope to live in Kapaun, both Dowe and Ramirez said.
The chaplain put his own life in danger to forage for food, aid the wounded, and keep the spirits up, they said. He was awarded the Medal of Honor, April 11, 2013.
Dowe and Ramirez were both captured in November 1950. They were prisoners of war for nearly three years.
Dowe, who was then a first lieutenant, remembers the chaplain as "certainly the greatest man" he has ever met.
His story of bravery and commitment resonates with Soldiers to this very day, Dowe said.
"I think it's so important to pass on the legacy of Father Kapaun to the Chaplain Corps, to the chaplains, (and) to Americans in general," said Dowe. "That's why I think the Medal of Honor was so important."
Ramirez, then a corporal, was baptized by Kapaun in Korea. He said the chaplain put himself in the line of enemy fire, seemingly dodging bullets to aid and protect Soldiers.
He said he gave the prisoners hope that they all would return home.
"To this day, I have him in my heart," said Ramirez.
Rutherford said Kapaun sacrificed all he had and risked his life to feed, clothe and aid his fellow Soldiers.
All the while, Rutherford said, Kapaun never wavered in his faith and commitment to God and country.
"I think we are challenged every day to live as Father Kapaun lived," he said.