On the eve of Veterans Day, the Catholic University community gathered to remember alumnus Father Emil Kapaun, an Army chaplain during World War II and the Korean War who made the ultimate sacrifice in service of God, country, and his fellow soldiers.
In his talk about Father Kapaun and military service, Lawrence Morris, University general counsel and a retired U.S. Army colonel, noted that the priest had been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery.
“The Medal of Honor is a really rare thing and [Father Kapaun] earned it,” said Morris. “It’s rare because the expectation is so high. Soldiers are assumed to have such a high base level of courage to begin with.” In recognition of Father Kapaun’s holiness and bravery, the Catholic Church has declared him a Servant of God — the first step in the process of canonization.
The Veterans Day Appreciation was sponsored by the University’s Metropolitan School of Professional Studies and began with a presentation of military colors and playing of the national anthem. A 30-year Army veteran, Morris served as chief prosecutor for the Guantanamo Bay War Crimes Trials, chief public defender for the Army, and general counsel for West Point.
Noting that military service instills in soldiers the virtues of duty, loyalty, courage, and initiative, Morris said, “Courage is expected from our soldiers. Often that courage is moral courage. The courage to do the right thing under pressure.”
During Father Kapaun’s service in Korea, he was captured by Communist forces, and he and his man were forced to march 40 miles to a prisoner-of-war camp. In the camp Father Kapaun ministered to the men both physically and spiritually, washing clothes, treating the sick, leading prayer services, hearing confessions, and celebrating Mass when he was able.
Father Kapaun fell ill while in the camp and was transferred to the prison hospital, where the Communists planned to let him die. The soldiers who served with him attempted to stop the Communists, but Father Kapaun said, “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.” Father Kapaun later died in the hospital.
At the end of the war, the men were released from the POW camp and as they left they carried a four-foot handmade cross made in honor of Father Kapaun. President Barack Obama awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor — the highest honor the country bestows on its soldiers — to Father Kapaun in April 2013. The priest earned a master’s degree in education at Catholic University in 1948.
Morris noted that it takes immense hope to be a soldier and to serve in the armed forces.
“Parents and soldiers are the most hopeful people in the world,” he said. “Parents for having the real audacity of hope in bringing new life into this trying world of ours and the soldier, for his belief that he can go anywhere and do anything he is told to do and get the job done.”