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 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 receiving his Master’s Degree in 1948, he re-enlisted in the Chaplain Corps.
During the Korean War, Captain Emil Kapaun was the Catholic chaplain assigned to the 3rd Battalion of the 8th Cavalry. On November 1, 1950, the feast of All Saints, 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 3,000 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.
Read more at Aleteia.