In the midst of a World War, Emil Kapaun was born in peaceful Pilsen, Kansas on August 20, 1916. His parents were Czech immigrants and virtually everyone in the area spoke Czech. From an early age Emil knew that he wanted to be a priest and would play mass with his younger brother. Graduating from Conception Abbey seminary college in Conception Missouri in 1936, Emil attended Kendrick Theological Seminary in Saint Louis, and was ordained a priest of the diocese of Wichita in June 1940. Father Kapaun returned to his home parish Saint John Nepomucene in Pilsen as an assistant to Father Sklenar who, together with his Bishop, had paid the cost of his attendance at the seminary. During these years Father Kapaun was also an auxiliary chaplain at Herington Air Base. After the retirement of Father Sklenar in December 1943, Father Kapaun became pastor of his boyhood parish. Receiving permission from his Bishop, Father Kapaun joined the army as a chaplain in July 1944.
Chaplain Kapaun’s intial assignment was as chaplain at Camp Wheeler in Georgia. In April 1945 he was sent to the C-B-I (China-Burma-India) theater of operations. While in the C-B-I he traveled over 2000 miles by jeep to say mass for the troops in the forward areas. Arriving in India he served as a chaplain for the troops on the Ledo road from Ledo, India to Lashio, Burma. Chaplain Kapaun became friends with the Catholic missionaries, priests and nuns from Italy, at Lashio. Taking up a collection for the missions from American troops, who responded generously, Father Kapaun also prevailed upon American combat engineers to construct a building in Lashio to be used as a school and a church. Here is a picture of Father Kapaun, viewer’s right, along with his trusty jeep, while he was in the C-B-I.
Promoted to Captain, he remained in the C-B-I until May of 1946 and was mustered out of the Army in July 1946. With the approval of his Bishop, Father Kapuan enrolled at Catholic University in Washington on the G.I. Bill, and obtained a Master’s degree in education in February 1948. In April his Bishop appointed him pastor in Timken, Kansas in April 1948. Believing that he was called to be a chaplain for the troops, and with the consent of his Bishop, Father Kapaun rejoined the army as a chaplain in September 1948.
Serving as a chaplain at Fort Bliss, Father Kapaun was ordered to Japan in 1950. Upon the outbreak of the Korean War, he was assigned to a front line combat unit, the 3rd battalion, 8th cavalry regiment, 1rst Cavalry Division. (more…)