This month I am continuing the discussion on Catholic Priests who have served as Military Chaplains in our US Armed Forces. As a retired soldier, I can assure you that having access to a Priest or Chaplain while on a deployment can be a very comforting and important aspect of military service. Unfortunately, there is a critical shortage of available Chaplains for today’s military – especially for Catholics. It is reassuring to know that our Order is working with the Archdiocese for Military Services (AMS) to help fund Tuition for Seminarians who commit to eventual service as a military Chaplain. My personal Thanks to those Indiana Knights who have contributed to the Military Chaplain’s Scholarship Fund, including a $200 donation just received from St Matthias Council 16945 (Crown Point). These kind contributions help us get closer to our State Goal of $5,000 to the national K of C Chaplain Fund.
Our spotlight for March is a Catholic Chaplain posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for actions against a hostile enemy during the Korean War. Fr. Emil J. Kapaun was a Catholic priest /Army Chaplain/Captain during World War II (Burma Theater of Operations) and the Korean War. He was born in Pilsen, Kansas - the son of Czech immigrants, and ordained a Catholic priest in June 1940. In August 1944 Fr. Kapaun entered the Army’s Chaplain School at Fort Devens, Massachusetts – and then served in India from April 1945 – May 1946. After a short break in service- he reentered the Army in September 1948 to serve at Ft Bliss, Texas, and in December 1949 was transferred to Occupation Duty in Japan with the 8th Cavalry Regiment of the 1st Cavalry Division. With the outbreak of war in Korea in July 1950, Fr. Kapaun and his unit were among the early units to deploy from Japan to fight/ stem the advance of the N. Korean Army. In the numerous engagements with the enemy that quickly followed, Chaplain Kapaun earned quite a reputation among his unit for bravery under direct fire. In November 1950, the 1st Cavalry Division was attacked near Unsan, North Korea by over 20,000 Chinese soldiers. While most of the Division was ordered to withdraw, Fr. Kapaun elected to remain behind with his soldiers of the 8th Cavalry. During the ensuing battle, he braved heavy enemy fire and rescued approximately 40 men – actions for which he would eventually be awarded the Medal of Honor – America’s highest decoration for Valor. Fr. Kapaun and many of the 8th Cavalry soldiers were captured at Unsan and marched north to Prison Camps on the Yalu River border with China – where they would face brutal conditions, starvation, disease, and extreme cold weather. Chaplain Kapaun again distinguished himself as a Servant of God in the Prison Camps by dedicating himself entirely to his fellow prisoners; but he eventually contracted pneumonia, dysentery, and a blood clot in his leg. He led an Easter Sunrise Service on March 25, 1951 – and then succumbed to malnutrition and pneumonia a few weeks later. He was buried in a Mass Grave – and his remains have never been recovered from N. Korea. (NOTE: Fr. Kapaun was initially awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his combat actions in Korea – but a Review Board later upgraded it to a Medal of Honor, presented to Chaplain Kapaun’s family in 2013 by President Obama.)
Fr. Kapaun is well recognized within our Order – with numerous Councils/Assemblies bearing his name, including Councils: #3423 (Pilsen, KS); #3744 (Westchester, CA); #11987 (Ramstein Air Base, Germany); #14218 (Ft Riley, KS); Assemblies: #2721 (Katy, TX); #3260 (Vail, AZ). You can read more details about Fr Kapaun online with Wikipedia and You Tube searches.
I look forward to seeing and meeting many of you at our State Convention in Fort Wayne 9 – 11 April. In the meantime, I hope that our Councils, Assemblies, and even individual Knights consider ways to raise funds to help support the Knights of Columbus Veterans Affairs efforts - most specifically the “WARRIORS TO LOURDES” and the “MILITARY CHAPLAINS SCHOLARSHIP” Funds. A State Form (VET-1) is available online with details on how to contribute! ( www.indianakofc.org/forms )
State Veterans Affairs Chairman