Chaplain Emil Kapaun—from Farm boy, to Priest, to Medal of Honor Recipient and Future Saint*

IT MAKES SENSE TO ME

By Larry Peterson

Emil Joseph Kapaun, was born on a farm near  Pilsen, Kansas, in 1916. Pilsen was a tiny town of less than 100 people named after after the city of Pizen in the Czech Republic. His parents were Czech immigrants and devout Catholics. Emil, besides being an excellent student, became quite adept at repairing farm equipment and machinery. This knowledge would prove very beneficial later on when he was a prisoner-of-war.

Emil Kapaun was ordained a priest on June 9, 1940. In 1944, he joined the U.S. Army Chaplains Corps. and was assigned to  serve in Burma. He left the army in 1946 to seek an advanced degree in education. He knew in his heart that his priestly ministry was to be a chaplain so, upon graduating with a Master's Degree in 1948, he re-enlisted in the Chaplain Corps.

During the Korean War, Captain Emil Kapaun, U. S. Army,  was the Catholic chaplain assigned to the 3rd Battalion of the 8th Cavalry. On November 1, 1950, the feast of All Saint's Day, Father Kapaun celebrated Mass for the soldiers in his battalion. In the minds of the troops the war was about over.

The North Koreans had been beaten back by the U. S. and United Nations forces. The guys were starting to think about being home for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Those pleasant thoughts of being home for the holidays were a bit premature. Right after midnight of November 2, All Soul's Day, their world exploded. The area held by 3000 American soldiers was unexpectedly attacked by a force of more than 20,000 charging, Chinese troops. The Americans, taken by surprise and fighting valiantly, never had a chance.

Father Kapaun ran from foxhole to foxhole, dragging out the wounded and giving last rites to the dying. Over the sound of gunfire and explosions he heard confessions. Feverishly working beyond the American lines in "no-man's land", he actually stopped an execution and negotiated with the enemy for the safety of wounded Americans. No one knows how many young soldiers he carried to safety on his back. Going back again and again he was finally taken prisoner as he tried to rescue another wounded soldier. He was not the only American GI captured that night.

By daybreak the battle was over and hundreds of  newly captured American POWs, including Father Kapaun, began a forced 87 mile "death march" to a POW camp.  The earlier thoughts about Christmas in America and drumsticks on Thanksgiving quickly evaporated as every step in the mud and snow and freezing cold now occupied the minds of the young soldiers who had suddenly become prisoners-of-war.

The "march" was brutal. Those wounded an unable to continue were shot dead. Father Kapaun picked up a wounded POW and began carrying him on his back. He implored others who were still in fair condition to do the same. Some followed his example and somehow, someway, many managed  to make it alive to the prison camp.

Father Kapaun cared not an iota about himself. Against the orders of his Chinese guards he cared for the sick and wounded, built fires for warmth and cooking, searched for scraps of food, and even set up a make-shift system to purify drinking water. What infuriated the guards was how Father Kapaun managed to gather the men together, officers and enlisted men, black men and white men, even atheists, agnostics and others, to join together in saying the Rosary.

Father Kapaun became an inspiration to the other POWs. The priest would preach openly to the men even though his captors ordered him not to do so. He would pray one-on-one with POWs and some even embraced the faith and were baptized. Praying was banned and when Father Kapaun ignored it and prayed with his men they would strip him naked and make him stand on a block of ice for hours on end. It is hard to imagine enduring such cruelty.

On Easter Sunday, 1951, the bedraggled, starving prisoners saw a silhouetted figure standing alone,  illuminated by the morning sun. As the men approached they realized it was Father Kapaun. He was wearing his purple stole  and holding a Roman Missal. Somehow he had received permission to hold an Easter Service. He could not say Mass but he read some Psalms and everyone recited out loud the prayers from Good Friday including the Stations of the CRoss. Survivors say that some men openly wept.

Father Kapaun, worn down from the horrendous conditions and suffering from his own wounds and poor treatment, died on May 23, 1951. He was credited with saving hundreds of lives through the loving care, compassion and spirituality he demonstrated to all his men.

His  awards  include the Congressional Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Bronze Star and many others.

In 1993, Captain Chaplain Emil Joseph Kapaun was declared a "Servant of God" by Pope John Paul II. The canonization process of this selfless priest is underway and there are two miracles under investigation at the present time. The simple priest from a little farm in Kansas is truly an inspiration for us all.

Servant of God, Emil Kapaun, please pray for us.

*This article appeared in Aleteia on Feberuary 21, 2017

                                         ©copyright Larry peterson 2017  All RightsReserved

     

Mother’s Day—After Years of Dreading It I Can Finally Embrace It

IT MAKES SENSE TO ME

By Larry Peterson

(updated  from 2016 article)

Mother’s Day is here and I will tell you immediately that it has never been my favorite holiday.

My mother died 56 years ago. She had just turned 40. (She had Leukemia and if you had Leukemia 56 years ago, you were “toast”.)  For some reason, I have only a few obscure memories of her. And, for me, that is an emptiness that has always exploded  inside me during the Mother’s Day celebration.

We were kids when she died. At fifteen, I was the oldest. My sister and brothers (the two youngest have now passed away) remembered details about her such as the softness of her hair, her laugh, how she loved cherry vanilla ice-cream, or pulling the shopping cart to the A&P. As for me, I had nothing except the information they had to share.

My Mom  circa 1939  age 19

I have been told that I was traumatized by her death and involuntarily blocked her out of my mind. I thought, how could that be true? I have experienced death taking my closest family members including: my wife, Loretta, 14 years ago married 35 years),  my second wife, Marty, only five weeks ago (we had been married for 10 years), a  stillborn daughter, my dad,  my two youngest brothers and Grandma, who died as I held her when I was 18. But, fortified by my Catholic faith, I always managed, to move through the grief process and learn to accept what happened.  But with my Mom that process never completed itself.


But I finally came to understand why I have been “stuck in the mud” with my Mom’s sudden passing albeit so long ago. I was selfish. I never thought about what must have been going through her mind as she lay dying at the age of 39. It was always about me and how MY mom died. That was the reason for my decades old problem. Therein was the cause of my emptiness. It was never about her. I felt sorry for myself when she died and kept feeling sorry for myself, year after year after year.

I needed help and finally it came.  Out of the clear blue my daughter, Mary, calls me and, during the conversation says, “Hey dad, do you realize I’m going to be 39 on my next birthday?”
Talk about being hit by lightning. My own daughter was going to be the same age as my own mother was when she was slowly being killed by an insidious, no holds barred, and merciless disease. I had never thought of my Mom as a 39 year old woman with five kids. I thought of her as my Mom, who died on ME. How pathetic is that?

Mary, who also happens to look a lot like the grandma she never knew, had only asked me a simple question. She could not have known the power that was in it. She had no idea that at that moment it removed the veil from my clouded “mom world” and set me on my journey to discover the woman and person who was also my mother.

Following decades of self-pity, I began to quietly ponder about this woman who carried me in her womb, who nursed me, fed me, bathed me, held me and hugged me, nursed me and my siblings through illnesses such as mumps, measles and chicken pox (all of which I have no memory), who cleaned, washed and ironed clothes, cooked, shopped and even worked part time, and how she must have felt as she prepared to leave her family behind while facing death. How awful and terrifying that must have been for her?

How did she hold her year and a half old son on her lap and look at him without going hysterical, knowing soon she would be gone? How did she handle thinking about her six year old son, missing his front teeth, who she would never give a sweet hug to again?  She had a ten year old who was in fourth grade and always needed his mom to help him with his homework. Would his dad help him? Probably not, he was so lousy at spelling and grammar.

And of course, there was my sister, her “little” girl. But she was 13 already, she was growing up. She would need her Mom, to talk to about woman things.  How did she bare holding onto the knowledge that her children would soon be motherless? What did she say to our dad, her husband and lover, as they lay together in bed, in the dark of night waiting for the inevitable as their five kids slept?

Sunday morning at Mass the priest will talk about mothers, living and deceased. This year I will be proud of the God loving, faithful, kind and courageous woman that was MY Mom. I may only have a few scattered memories of her but it doesn’t matter anymore. It was never about “poor me”, it was about her. I was such a jerk not to see it.

On this Mother’s Day I will also thank God for that phone call from Mary. I will then thank Him for my Mom. And to all the loving, caring Moms everywhere, God bless you all and Happy Mother’s Day.
                                ©Larry Peterson 2016 
     

Rejecting “Common Sense” also Rejects the Golden Rule

IT MAKES SENSE TO ME

By Larry Peterson

en.wikipedia.com
It seems that the fear of litigation has triggered the ongoing evaporation of  "Common sense".  What triggered my need to defend "common sense" are three separate incidents that I experienced over the past month. As you will see, each of these incidents, though simple and uneventful,  not only rejected the use of "common sense" but the collateral damage from these rejections was the trashing of the Golden Rule.
Incident 1:
My wife was in the hospital during the middle of March. She had been taken off life-support and was in a room breathing on her own but unconscious. I was there with her and her head was bent over onto her shoulder. I thought I might try to lift her head and make her more comfortable. However, I was unable to do it by myself as she had a large CPAP mask strapped on.
Just then a young lady came into the room, gave me a big smile and asked, "Is there anything I can do to help you?"
I was thrilled at her timing and I explained how I just needed a bit of help repositioning my wife to make her more comfortable. The young lady shrugs and sheepishly says, "Oh sir, I'm sorry. I'm a volunteer and we are not allowed to touch the patients."
I quickly found out that the volunteers could not feed anyone, touch anyone and can basically do nothing more than be a "gopher" for the nurses or get me a cup of coffee. As far as helping the woman in the bed, NOT allowed.
Incident 2:
I am an EMHC and I bring Holy Communion to about a half dozen seniors in an assisted living facility on Sundays. One of my communicants had five or six newspapers in front of his door. I picked them up and headed to the main desk where a security guard was stationed. I dumped the papers on the countertop and said, "Hey Tony, what's going on down in 103. There is no answer and all his newspapers are outside his door?"
"Oh yeah, Mr. A is in the hospital. They took him earlier this week." Tony refused to tell me what hospital. So I asked, "How come no one picks up all these newspapers?"
He shook his head and shrugged, "We are not allowed to touch anyone including their “stuff”. In fact, if someone falls right in front of my desk I am not allowed to help them up or touch them. I have to call 911. If I touch them I will lose my job."
In my standard inbred NYC manner I say, "C'mon Tony. Gimme a break--whaddaya mean you can't help them. That's ridiculous."
He reached under the countertop and pulled out a sheet of paper. It was the rules and regulations from the facility. "Here, you think I'm making this up?" Everything he told me was on that sheet of paper.
Incident 3:
I have been getting three to four calls a day from a number in area code 954. I have no idea where that might be and I do not care. In addition, the caller(s) never spoke. They just disconnected.  I never answer the phone unless the caller identifies themselves but the relentless pursuit from area code 954 eventually beat me into submission.  I caved and answered the phone. A pleasant, melodic voice floats into my ear saying, "Is this Mr. Peterson?"
My immediate response (I love to get a bit flippy) was, "Ya think. You have been calling me over and over and over never leaving  a message and now you want to know who I am?  Who are YOU?"
“Heather” introduced herself and told me she was calling to see if I wanted to renew my newspaper subscription. "Heather, are you telling me that different phone solicitors from your paper have been calling me three to four times a day and not one of you left a message? Do I have that right?"
"Uh, yes, I'm sorry Mr. Peterson. We are not allowed to leave a message."
There is nothing I can add to that.  These "professional" people will call folks up all day long and never leave a message. They are not allowed. Whew! That, to me, that is harassment. Yet, it is justified because it is a "rule" or "policy" of an invisible entity called a “company”.
 Natural Law , present  in the heart of each man and established by reason, is universal in its precepts and its authority extends to all men. It expresses the dignity of the person and determines the basis for his fundamental rights and duties." CCC1956

I don't know about you but if I see someone fall I will (if possible) help them up. If I lose my job because of my actions--so be it. If I call someone and I hear a recorded response, I will leave a message.  The Golden Rule and “common sense” go hand in hand. This other stuff is “madness”.

                                 ©copyright Larry Peterson 2017