by Moira Cullings
OVERLAND PARK — If you want an example of the living heart of Jesus Christ, look no further than Father Emil Kapaun.
The U.S. Army chaplain who gave of himself in innumerable ways during the Korean War, Father Kapaun sacrificed it all to keep his fellow soldiers alive — both physically and spiritually.
A native of Pilsen, Father Kapaun’s heroic example continues to inspire the world, and especially residents of his home state.
To honor the chaplain on the eve of his 101st birthday, Philip Glasser and Richard Witthar, members of the St. Philippine Duchesne Knights of Columbus Assembly 2260, invited fellow Knights in the Kansas City area to pay their respects at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Overland Park on April 19.
“I think [Father Kapaun] is probably the ultimate example of a Catholic gentleman,” said Witthar, the assembly’s faithful navigator.
“He showed the example of Christ to his fellow soldiers,” he said.
Knights and veterans from a variety of parishes in the archdiocese gathered to honor Father Kapaun and hear Glasser, the assembly’s faithful scribe, tell the gripping story of the chaplain’s bravery during the war.
A key component of fourth-degree assemblies of Knights is patriotism, said Glasser, which makes Father Kapaun the perfect role model.
“What better confluence of patriotism and our Catholic faith than to have a military chaplain who we have respect for and admire?” he asked.
While serving in the Korean War, Father Kapaun relentlessly exposed himself to enemy fire to recover wounded men and bring them to safety.
He never carried a weapon.
On Nov. 2, 1950, the chaplain was captured by Chinese forces, which forced him and other prisoners to march for days to a prisoner of war camp.
Not once did Father Kapaun take a break from tending to the injured on their journey.
At the camp, the chaplain risked his life by stealing food for his fellow soldiers and was a constant source of sacrifice during dark times.
“Quite a [few] of the soldiers that survived the war testified to the fact that Father [Kapaun] helped them considerably in surviving the war,” said Witthar.
“He gave up quite a bit of his rations to them because the conditions in Korea were very harsh, especially in the winter,” he added.
After falling ill from his captivity, Father Kapaun was taken to a filthy hospital where he died on May 23, 1951. Before dying, the chaplain asked God to forgive his captors.
Not only did Father Kapaun receive the Medal of Honor in 2013, but he is also on the path to an even greater honor — sainthood.
“The thing that’s most impressive when you read about what he did and how he conducted himself — both before and after the capture of he and his fellow soldiers — is his selflessness and willingness to put himself out for others,” said Glasser.
Today, Glasser continued, it’s difficult to find people who do good deeds for the sake of helping others with no intention of being noticed.
“That’s what he was able to do in the context of everything that he was involved in,” he said.
Glasser, who served in active duty in the U.S. Army for five years, has a particular appreciation for chaplains like Father Kapaun who put others before themselves and bring Christ’s compassion with them wherever they go.
During his time serving in northern Iraq, Glasser recalls a comforting moment amid unfamiliar territory.
“I went to Mass at a bunch of interesting places — a parking garage and an office at a grain mill,” he said.
“You’re not home, but it’s nice having that part of home over there with you,” he continued.
Both Glasser and Witthar hope their fellow Knights, as well as all Kansas residents, will look to Father Kapaun as an example of love and continue to pray for the cause of his sainthood.
“He was just a person who you think would give anybody anything he had,” said Glasser. “And that’s literally what he did.”