Graybeards - Korean War Veterans Association

Graybeards - Korean War Veterans Association

Father Kapaun

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Wichita [KS] Eagle ran an eight-part series on Father Kapaun in

December 2009. Deputy Editor Tom Shine graciously offered to let us reprint the series in

its entirety. We will do that in serial fashion, since the series is too long for us to include

in one issue.

We offer our deep gratitude to writer Roy Wenzl and Deputy Editor Shine for permission

to reprint the articles.


This is Part V of our continuing series on Father Emil Kapaun.

The Wichita Eagle (Kansas), December 11, 2009 Wednesday

Father Emil Kapaun: As hundreds die, Kapaun rallies the POWs;

Part 5: The Miracle of Father Kapaun

BYLINE: ROY WENZL; The Wichita Eagle

SECTION: a; Pg. 1: LENGTH: 1267 words

“No sincere prayer is ever wasted.” -

Father Emil Kapaun

At sunrise on Easter Sunday, March 25,

1951, Father Emil Kapaun startled POWs

by donning his purple priest’s stole and

openly carrying a Catholic prayer missal,

borrowed from Ralph Nardella.

He had talked atheist guards into letting

him hold an Easter service, a favor

they soon regretted.

No one there would ever forget this

day. The most moving sight the POWs

ever saw.

At sunrise, 80 officers — bearded, dirty

and covered with lice — followed Kapaun

up a little rise, to the cold steps of a

bombed-out church. They gathered in a

circle around him. Kapaun held a crude

crucifix made from broken sticks. He

looked thin and filthy; except for the black

eye patch, he looked to Walt Mayo like

one of the ragged apostles.

Kapaun began speaking, and his voice

caught; he said he didn’t have the equipment

to give them a proper Mass. But then

he held up his ciborium, the tiny gold container

that before his capture had held

communion hosts he had placed on

tongues of soldiers.

He opened Nardella’s prayer missal,

and as he began to recite from it, the

Christians among them realized what a

risk he was now taking. He was beginning

not from the Easter promise of rebirth but

from the dark brutality of Good Friday.

As the guards glared, Kapaun read the

Stations of the Cross, describing Christ’s

condemnation, torture and death. Captives

who had been mocked and tormented and

beaten listened as Kapaun spoke of Christ

being mocked and tormented and beaten.

Tears flowed.

Kapaun held up a rosary. He asked the

non-Catholics to let the Catholics indulge

for a bit; they knelt as he said the rosary,

recited the glorious mysteries of Christ

rising, ascending, defying death for all


A Cross at Kapaun High School that was carved

in honor of Father Kapaun

Fr. Kapaun

A voice rose in song. A POW, Bill

Whiteside, had a beautiful voice, and he

raised it now to sing the Lord’s Prayer, a

recital that gave goose bumps to Sidney

Esensten, the Jewish doctor.

Kapaun spoke. His theme: forgiveness.

And he said he did not feel qualified to

advise them about life because, “I am not

any better than you are.”

Then they all sang as Kapaun had

taught them: loud so that the enlisted men

could hear. Starving men sang at sunrise,

the same song Whiteside had sung, the

Lord’s Prayer, a song they laced with reverence.

Kapaun had rallied them all.

When guards demanded that Ralph

Nardella stand before the prisoners and

recite what he had learned about

Communism’s founders Marx and Engels,

Nardella yelled out with a straight face to

fellow captives that he’d learned a lot

from “Marx and Engels and Amos and

Andy,” the last two being fools from an

American radio program. POWs laughed;

the guards glared.

There were now hundreds of acts of

defiance in the camps every day. Kapaun

and a prisoner named William Hansen

stole dysentery drugs from the Chinese

hospital and smuggled them to Esensten.

Herb Miller, inspired by Kapaun,

began to read a pocket Bible, which one of

Miller’s fellow prisoners hid from the

Chinese by sticking it in a bandage he’d

wrapped around his knee. The one place

September – October 2010

The Graybeards

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