Fort Stewart and the 3rd Infantry Division celebrated the Army Chaplain Corps’ 246th birthday with a day-long event at the Main Post Chapel July 30, 2021.
Chaplains are the military's religious leaders and are responsible for tending to the spiritual and moral wellbeing of Servicemembers and their families. They have provided religious support to Soldiers, Families, and Civilians of the U.S. Army since July 29, 1775.
This year's celebration paid special attention to the heroic actions of U.S. Army Capt. (CH) Emil J. Kapaun, who gave his life in the line of duty during World War II.
“Our mission has never been more important,” said Lt. Col. (CH) Christopher Wallace. “Our skills have never been more relevant; our time to serve is now. We care for the soul of the Army; it is our sacred duty.”
The event kicked off with physical fitness training, an important part of any Soldier’s day.
“Physical training is part of what a U.S. Soldier is,” said Col. (CH) Rajmund Kopec. “If we look at the example of Chaplain Kapaun, first of all his spiritual fitness was most essential, but his physical fitness helped him carry the Soldiers from one foxhole to the another, so staying physically fit also helps to stay spiritually fit.”
An awards ceremony took place after PT and culminated with the presentation of Legion of Merit awards to Master Sgts. Joseph Bouchard and Arthur Woods Jr.
“The Chaplain Corps has done amazing things for the United States Army,” said Brig. Gen. Jasper Jeffers, the deputy commanding general for maneuver for 3rd ID. “When the bullets start flying, everybody loves a chaplain; I will tell you from personal experience.”
The afternoon was spent talking about the lasting legacy of Kapaun.
“Kapaun was one of the first reinforcements that was sent to Korea to resist the invasion,” said Kopec. “Kapaun ran through the enemy's fire to bring back Soldiers to safety. He had the need to help people.”
Kapaun distinguished himself with extraordinary heroism and selfless service during the Korean War. On Oct. 31, as Kapaun ministered to Soldiers of 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, enemies began attacking near his position in Unsan, South Korea.
As Chinese communist forces surrounded his battalion, Kapaun repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire to recover wounded men and drag them to safety. As the enemy closed in, Kapaun rejected several chances to escape, choosing instead to stay behind to care for the wounded. He was taken as a prisoner of war by Chinese forces Nov. 2.
Kapaun spent the next seven months in the Sambukol and Pyoktong prison camps. During his time at these camps, he continued to minister and care for sick and wounded Soldiers. Other POWs who were with Kapaun credit him with saving potentially hundreds of lives before succumbing to his own wounds May 23, 1951.
Kapaun remained unaccounted for until March 2, 2021, when his remains were identified among the 867 remains buried as unknowns at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii.
Kapaun is currently being considered for the highest honor recognized in Catholicism; becoming a canonized saint. A preliminary evaluation of his sanctity, for canonization, was accepted by Pope John Paul II in 1994.
“There is no greater recommendation than being officially recognized as a saint of the Catholic Church,” said Kopec.
Kapaun was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously on April 13, 2013, by then President Barack Obama for his heroism.
The Defense Prisoner of War Missing in Action agency plans to return Kapaun's remains to Wichita, Kansas, Sept. 25, 2021.
“Chaplains have had an essential role in the history of the U.S. Army,” said Kopec. “If I’m not spiritually strong, I'm going to fail because I’m going to break under pressure.”