Thursday, April 11, 2013

Honor Thy Father....

Today in a ceremony at the White House President Obama shall posthumously award Captain Emil Joseph Kapaun the Medal of Honor.  Captain Kapaun was an Army Chaplain.  He was a member of the 3d Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division and served in Korea with his brothers-in-arms in the Korean War.  

Captain Kapaun's Medal of Honor was earned during the Battle of Unsan on November 1 and 2, 1950.  The description of what he did - as set forth on the Medal of Honor's official site - is nothing short of jaw-dropping: 

As Chinese Communist forces encircled the battalion, Kapaun moved fearlessly from foxhole to foxhole under direct enemy fire in order to provide comfort and reassurance to the outnumbered Soldiers.  He repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire to recover wounded men, dragging them to safety.  When he could not drag them, he dug shallow trenches to shield them from enemy fire.  As Chinese forces closed in, Kapaun rejected several chances to escape, instead volunteering to stay behind and care for the wounded.  He was taken as a prisoner of war by Chinese forces on November 2, 1950.  

Once captured Captain Kapaun continued to provide comfort to his fellow prisoners.  He continued to provide leadership as well.   He repeatedly disobeyed his Chinese captors and snuck around the prison camp under cover of darkness, sharing whatever food he could scrape up and tending to those soldiers who were injured and ill.  For his troubles he was punished severely - including one reported incident in which he was forced to sit outside naked in subzero weather.  While his punishment undoubtedly chilled him to his core, it did little to slow him down.  Once he thawed out, he was back doing all he could for those around him - at great personal risk.  

Captain Kapaun did not live to see the end of the Korean War.  Once captured by the Chinese, he was never freed.  On May 23, 1951 - slightly more than one month past his thirty-fifth birthday - he died as a Prisoner of War in a Chinese hospital.   

The Korean War was not the first one in which Captain Kapaun had worn the uniform of his country.  He was ordained a Catholic priest in 1940.  In 1944, he joined the Army's Chaplain Corps and ended up serving in Burma and India for the duration of World War II.  Nor is the Medal of Honor the first honor bestowed upon him.  His military awards include the Distinguished Service Cross; Bronze Star Medal with "V" Device; Legion of Merit; Prisoner of War Medal; Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with one Bronze Service Star for Central Burma Campaign; World War II Victory Medal; Army of Occupation Medal with  Japan Clasp; Korean Service Medal with two Bronze Service Stars; National Defense Service Medal; and United Nations Service Medal.    

May time permit each of us to take just a moment today to think of Chaplain (Capt.) Emil Joseph Kapaun.  In view of the way in which he lived his life - putting others before himself even when doing so risked death - it is the very least we can do.  

And just in case you need a reminder as to what a real hero looks like....

Chaplain (Capt.) Emil Kapaun

Emil Joseph Kapaun
April 20, 1916
May 23, 1951


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