Hard to imagine a more inspiring story than that of Chaplain Emil Kapaun who served in World War 2 and then in the Korean war. Here is a particularly moving excerpt from a two-part series by Jaqueline Hames published in Soldiers Magazine (here are links to part 1 and part 2):
Then-Sgt. 1st Class Herbert Miller was badly injured leading his platoon across the river. His ankle was broken when grenade shrapnel slammed into it, sending him tumbling into a ditch, where he hid beneath the body of an enemy Soldier as the Chinese and Koreans advanced.
The enemy came into the ditch to conduct a search and found Miller. After he was captured, a Chinese Soldier noticed Miller was wounded, and prepared to shoot him.
“He had the gun pointed at my head, and about that time, I looked and this American come across the road and it was Father Kapaun,” Miller said. “He pushed the man aside — why that Soldier never shot him, I’ll never know.”
“And they were still shooting and firing at us, they wasn’t just setting there looking at one another, war was going on!” he said. “And he walked across that road, standing up, never got hit or anything.”
Kapaun knew it was common enemy practice to execute men too injured to walk, the Rev. John Hotze, judicial vicar for the Wichita Diocese, explained, so Kapaun picked Miller up and carried him.
“I kept telling him to put me down, you can’t carry me like this. He said, ‘If I put you down, they’ll shoot ya,'” Miller said.
As the prisoners marched, Miller would alternate between leaning on Kapaun and being carried by Kapaun – this went on for 30 miles. They were separated upon arrival at the Pyoktong prison camp, Kapaun was sent to the officer’s compound and Miller to the enlisted.
Later in the prison camp, Kapaun was put in with the officers since he was both chaplain and Captain.
Kapaun would gather the officers every night at dusk and sing with them, Hotze explained. They would sing the “Lord’s Prayer,” “God Save the Queen” and “God Bless America.”
“He wanted to make sure the enlisted men knew the officers were still there so that they would not lose hope, and would not feel abandoned,” Hotze said.
Once all the officers were settled in their huts, Kapaun would sneak out and head to the enlisted compound, where he would go from hut to hut speaking with the men and providing spiritual guidance.
“We were housed in mud shacks,” then-1st Lt. William Funchess said. “The shacks had straw roofs, and the sliding doors and one small window were covered in paper. It was very primitive conditions, and I was extremely hungry.”
The enemy had lost Funchess’ paperwork and didn’t realize he was an officer, so he was placed in the enlisted compound. One night, as he was out walking around, Funchess came across a man crouching near a fire who “looked real old” and dirty, with a big beard.
“I walked over to him, toward the fire and this old gentleman, and anyway, as soon as I got near, he spoke up and welcomed me and he said, ‘I am Chaplain Emil Kapaun, and I am melting snow,'” Funchess recalled. “He asked, ‘Would you like a cup of hot water?’ And I said, ‘Yes sir.'”
They struck up a conversation and Kapaun described how he would slip through the barbed wire between the compounds, dodging armed guards, to come and care for the enlisted men.
Kapaun would scrounge around the camp and raid enemy warehouses for millet seed, corn and sometimes soybeans, Funchess said, filling his pockets and distributing the food among the prisoners.
Kapaun fell ill and died in what his captors called a hospital and what the prisoners dubbed the “Death House” on May 6, 1951.