Memorial Mass, dedication today
SHAMOKIN - A memorial Mass will be held at 11 a.m. today in Mother Cabrini Church to honor the heroic actions of Father Emil Joseph Kapaun, a Roman Catholic priest and U.S. Army chaplain who died May 23, 1951, in the Korean War and is being considered for sainthood.
Following the Mass, a newly constructed fieldhouse at the Mother Cabrini ballfield in the Springfield section of Coal Township will be dedicated in Kapaun's honor. The fieldhouse was built through the generosity of Korean War veteran Ralph Nasatka, who has made major donations to Mother Cabrini Church over the years toward renovations at the ballfield and parish office.
Nasatka, who resides in Maryland, is organizing the tribute to Kapaun for his wartime activities. Kapaun, of Pilsen, Kan., died at the age of 35 while a prisoner of war. He also served in World War II and received numerous medals and accolades for his outstanding service, including the Medal of Honor.
The Rev. Martin Kobos, pastor of Mother Cabrini Church, will be the main celebrant of the Mass.
Members of Kapaun's family, Congressional Medal of Honor winners, Korean War POWs, other Korean War veterans and members of Rolling Thunder, a motorcycle organization, are among those who were invited.
An honor guard from Fort Myers and the Knights of Columbus is scheduled to attend.
The following information about Father Emil Kapaun, a highly decorated U.S. Army chaplain who died in the Korean War, was provided to The News-Item by Ralph Nasatka, a Korean War veteran from Maryland who is organizing a memorial Mass and fieldhouse dedication today at Mother Cabrini Church in Shamokin and the ballfield in the Springfield section of Coal Township:
After the Communist invasion of South Korea, Father Kapaun was among the first American troops to hit the beaches and push their way north through hard mountains and bitter cold.
That's when Chinese forces entered the war with a massive surprise attack - perhaps 20,000 soldiers pouring down on a few thousand Americans. In the chaos of dodging bullets and explosions, Father Kapaun raced between foxholes and past the front lines into no-man's land, dragging the wounded to safety.
When his commanders ordered an evacuation, he chose to stay and gather the injured, tending to their wounds. When the enemy broke through and the combat was hand-to-hand, he continued comforting the injured and dying.
When enemy forces bore down, it seemed like the end for more than a dozen Americans. But Father Kapaun spotted a wounded Chinese officer and convinced him to call out to his fellow Chinese to stop shooting and negotiate a safe surrender, which saved American lives.
Then, as Father Kapaun was being led away, he saw another American, wounded, unable to walk and laying defenseless in a ditch. An enemy solider was standing over him with his rifle aimed at his head, ready to shoot. Father Kapaun marched over, pushed the enemy solider aside and carried the American away as the stunned Chinese soldier looked on.
He carried the injured American for miles as their captors forced them on a death march. When other prisoners stumbled, he picked them up. When they wanted to quit, knowing that stragglers would be shot, he begged them to keep walking.
Father Kapaun offered freezing men his own clothes during the winter and convinced his fellow prisoners to share food that he risked his life obtaining for them. He also washed their clothes and cleansed their wounds.
The guards ridiculed his devotion to his Savior and the Almighty. They took his clothes and made him stand in the freezing cold for hours. Yet, he never lost his faith. If anything, it only grew stronger.
At night, he slipped into huts to lead prisoners in prayer and administer sacraments while offering three simple words - "God bless you."
One of the prisoners said Father Kapaun was able to turn a mud hut into a cathedral with his very presence.
Father Kapaun also held an Easter service that spring that included him putting on a purple stole and leading dozens of prisoners to the ruins of an old church in the camp. He held up a small crucifix that he made from sticks and joined his fellow prisoners in singing the Lord's Prayer and "America the Beautiful."
The faith that they might be delivered from evil and could make it home was perhaps the greatest gift to those men who were in the midst of such hardship and despair.
One of the soldiers, noting that there could be a touch of the divine even in such hell, stated, "That is what kept a lot of us alive."
The horrific conditions took their toll on Father Kapaun as he became thin, frail and began to limp from a blood clot in his leg. He then developed dysentery and pneumonia, which gave the guards their chance to finally rid themselves of the priest and the hope he inspired.
The guards sent him to a death house with no food or water against the protests and tears of the prisoners.
And yet, even then, his faith held firm.
Father Kapaun told his brothers, "I'm going to where I've always wanted to go. And when I get up there, I'll say a prayer for all of you."
As he was being taken away, he blessed the guards and forgave them.
Two days later, Father Kapaun breathed his last breath in the house of death. His body was taken away and his grave was unmarked. His remains have never been recovered.
Father Kapaun, who celebrated Mass during the Korean War using the hood of a Jeep as his altar, was awarded the Medal of Honor six decades after his death May 23, 1951.
He is remembered as a priest and American soldier who didn't fire a gun, but wielded the mightiest weapon of all - love for his brothers so pure that he was willing to die so that they might live.