No Act of Service Was Beneath Him

“Every day was the day you were going to die. It was pretty much a place of hell and despair with no hope.” That’s how the former Allied soldiers, interviewed by Wichita Eagle reporters Roy Wenzl and Travis Heying for their Christopher Award-winning book “The Miracle of Father Kapaun,” described their lives in prisoner of war camps run by the North Koreans and Chinese during the Korean War.
These soldiers endured freezing temperatures, starvation, and blood-sucking lice, which caused their health to deteriorate even faster. One person who did all he could to keep them from death was U.S. Army chaplain Father Emil Kapaun. By the time he got to the POW camp, Father Kapaun already had a reputation as a fearless and holy leader.
During an interview on “Christopher Closeup,” Wenzl explained, “Father Kapaun’s Eighth Cavalry Regiment had been in a number of gruesome big battles. He ran around and rescued the wounded, almost recklessly, dragging them back to safety when they might have been shot pretty far outside the foxholes. That’s part of the reason that people were so willing to follow him.”
Another reason occurred soon after Father Kapaun’s battalion was captured in November 1950. While the American GIs were being marched to the POW camp, Father Kapaun saw a Chinese soldier with a rifle pointed at the head of Sgt. Herb Miller, who was lying in a ditch with a broken ankle. It was routine for the Chinese to execute enemy soldiers who were wounded.
Wenzl said, “Father Kapaun breaks away from his captors, strides over, brushes the Chinese soldier’s rifle up in the air, then leans down right in front of him, picks the sergeant up and carries him away. And the sergeant’s still alive; it’s Herb Miller from Pulaski, New York. He says, ‘I thought both of us were gonna get shot in the back as he carried us away but the Chinese soldier just stood there. He didn’t know what to make of this.’”
Life in the camp was brutal, but once again, Father Kapaun provided material relief, moral leadership, and spiritual guidance. For instance, the Chinese and North Koreans only gave their captives a handful of birdseed to eat daily. Despite starving himself, Father Kapaun often gave his seeds away to set an example of sharing. The Allies also didn’t receive any water to drink from their captors, so they scraped snow and ice off the ground to hydrate themselves. As a result of ingesting unclean water, they often got dysentery.
Because of his youth working on a farm, Father Kapaun found a solution. Wenzl said, “He took roofing tin from bombed out buildings and banged rocks on it and formed them into bowls that they could use as little cooking pots.” That saved lives because it allowed them to boil water before drinking it. And for the soldiers who did suffer from dysentery, Father Kapaun would hand wash their underwear, demonstrating that absolutely no act of service was beneath him.
Father Kapaun also boosted the Allies’ morale by defying the brainwashing techniques their communist captors employed on them. “He would literally stand up,” noted Wenzl, “and say, ‘What you’re telling us is a bunch of lies. It’s not true!’”
Of course, all these actions antagonized Father Kapun’s captors, so they would soon take the opportunity to eliminate this heroic man for good. I’ll share that story in my next column.
For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, PERSEVERING THROUGH PAIN AND STRUGGLE, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: mail@christophers.org

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