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"The peace which God gives is a gift which exists even in suffering, in want, or even in time of war."

Father Emil Kapaun


Born in 1916 in the small farming community of Pilsen in Marion, Kansas, the young Emil spent many hours doing chores around the family farm and helping with planting and harvest.  In his spare time he enjoyed the same activities as most young boys: spending time outdoors, fishing, swimming in the creek, playing baseball, and riding his bike.  

The Catholic faith was a central element of the Czech immigrant community, as well as for the Kapaun family.  As he grew, Emil felt a call by God to the priesthood, initially dreaming of becoming a missionary to share God’s love in faraway lands.


Ordained a Catholic priest for the Diocese of Wichita, the missionary call never quite left Father Kapaun's heart.  In an almost-prophetic letter to his bishop, Father Kapaun expressed his desire to be an Army Chaplain:

“When I was ordained, I was determined to ‘spend myself’ for God.  I was determined to do that cheerfully, no matter in what circumstances I would be placed or how hard a life I would be asked to lead.  That is why I volunteered for the Army, and that is why today I would a thousand times rather be working, deprived of all ordinary comforts, being a 'Father' to all my people."

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Father Kapaun became an Army Chaplain during World War II.  However, it was during the Korean War that Chaplain Kapaun’s heroics truly came to light. During the fierce fighting at the beginning of the war, Father Kapaun braved bullets and artillery fire to minister to the men of the 1st Cavalry Division.  Refusing safety, Kapaun went from foxhole to foxhole to administer the sacraments, provide encouragement, and pray with his "boys".


“No bullet got me yet,” he wrote to his parents, although he did have many close calls.  “Three times I myself nearly got killed, but always the Lord spares me, so I can be of service to the soldiers.”

At the devastating Battle of Unsan, North Korea, Nov 1-2, 1950, Father Kapaun’s most pivotal moment arrived.  Ambushed and greatly outnumbered, the chaplain roamed the battlefield, conducting his mission of mercy to the wounded and dying men.  Some he anointed, others he dragged to safety; he prayed for all. 

Given the chance to escape, Father Kapaun chose to stay with the wounded, knowing that he might never return home.  Even after his capture, he risked his life to prevent the execution of a wounded American sergeant.  Years later he would be awarded the Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest recognition, for his valor at this battle.

In a dismal North Korean Prisoner of War camp, Father Kapaun held onto his joy and reminded the men of their dignity. He picked lice, washed dirty clothing, stole food, and melted snow to bring the men “coffee”. 


Above all he stood up to the lies of their captors, who challenged their faith in God and country.  He prayed with the men and instilled in them the will to live. Through his many acts of charity, encouragement and humor, Father Kapaun left an enduring impact on each of the men he served. “He was the greatest man I ever knew,” many testified.


On May 23, 1951, removed from his friends by his captors, he breathed his last, his body utterly spent from service to his fellow man.  Yet for Father Kapaun, it was not the end, nor was it an unhappy death.  As he was carried away, he forgave his captors and asked their forgiveness.  His last words leave us an enduring legacy: "Don’t worry about me.  I’m going where I always wanted to go, and when I get there, I’ll say a prayer for all of you."

To learn more about Chaplain Father Kapaun and his cause for sainthood, visit the Father Kapaun Guild link below.

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© 2024 Chaplain Kapaun Memorial Committee

424 N Broadway Ave | Wichita, KS 67202

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