Posts Tagged ‘kansas’

ash tree

A Kansas summer can feel horrible.  It often has searing heat, strong wind, and humidity that makes us all crave air conditioning or an ice-cold lemonade.  Our conditions are harsh and demanding every year.  These challenging elements try us and yet there are old trees standing in every community.

The heat, wind, and drought like conditions allow certain trees to develop a strong root system.  One where they dig down into fertile soil and become an anchor when storms, tornadoes, and gales unleash their worst across Kansas.  The trials, torment, and tough times produce strong trees that can survive truly horrible conditions.

People are the same way.  No one desires a season of pain, anguish, or torment in life, but it often finds us.  This tough season of life is often seen in the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, a serious illness, financial difficulty, a broken relationship, terrorist attacks, war, and other traumatic events.  These are all examples of very challenging life experiences that hurt when they happen, but can produce stronger roots.

James writes to the Jerusalem church in verses 2-4 sharing:

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

While it does not feel good when it happens, trials can ultimately yield endurance and strength to our faith and our life. When life seems dark and difficult, be like David and pray to God for strength.  When you are scared, reach for your Bible and take comfort knowing that God will not forsake you.  When you grieve, know that Christ also wept with hurt and loss as He consoled a community of mourners. Endure.  Stay strong.  Keep your faith.  Maintain your trust in the Lord and you will find a new season of life through Christ.

Science and psychology has finally caught up with this lesson from James.  Study after study now document resilience and post traumatic growth for people who have weathered trauma and a hard season of life.

While trauma can impair people in many ways, it turns out that there is routinely a higher percentage of people who demonstrate the ability to bounce back and learn from a hard season of life.  And yes, they are often people of faith who rely on their religion, faith, or spiritual practice for healing and recovery.  Today, faith is often embraced as a central and beneficial means of coping with tragedy.

Consider how trees survive in England.  The climate is wet, damp, and dreary. Spend a week there and you will pray to see the sun.  The soil is often moist because of the frequent rain showers.  This climate prevents trees from establishing deep roots in the soil.  The root system instead stays near the topsoil, hardly ever going deep into the ground.  A strong wind storm will often topple multiple trees in England provoking a community clean up in villages across the country.  Trees that have not been tested with hardship do not produce deep roots.  They are instead the first to fall when the storms of life come their way.

While summer conditions feel bad now they make deep roots, bring hope for tomorrow, and deliver a new season of life.



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Today President Barack Obama posthumously awarded the legendary Roman Catholic priest from Pilsen, Kansas, the nation’s highest military honor, making him the sixth chaplain to receive the Medal of Honor.

Chaplain (CPT) Emil Kapaun was posthumously awarded the medal of honor for his selfless service and heroic efforts during the Korean War.  He repeatedly risked his own life to aid wounded soldiers and keep their faith while in captivity.

During the Battle of Unsan, Kapaun was serving with the 3rd Battalion of the 8th Cavalry Regiment. As Chinese Communist forces encircled the battalion, Kapaun moved fearlessly from foxhole to foxhole under direct enemy fire in order to provide comfort and reassurance to the outnumbered Soldiers. He repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire to recover wounded men, dragging them to safety. When he couldn’t drag them, he dug shallow trenches to shield them from enemy fire. As Chinese forces closed in, Kapaun rejected several chances to escape, instead volunteering to stay behind and care for the wounded.

Herbert Miller remembers the first time he saw Chaplain Kapaun.  It was November 1950 and Miller, an Army sergeant, had a gun pointed at his head by a Chinese soldier.  Miller lay in a frozen, blood-stained ditch in North Korea.  Hit by a hand grenade, his ankle broken, Miller figured he was a goner.  But then, seemingly out of nowhere, a soldier bearing a small cross on his helmet appeared.

“Chaplain Kapaun came from across the road,” Miller recalled. “He pushed that man aside. He picked me up and carried me. We were both captured at that time.  “I kept telling him, ‘You can’t carry me like that. You put me down,’ ” Miller said, worried he was too much of a physical burden for the slender Kapaun. “He said, ‘If I put you down, they’ll shoot you.’ ”

After he was captured, Kapaun and other prisoners were forced to march into enemy territory toward prisoner-of-war camps. During the march Kapaun led by example in caring for injured Soldiers, carrying the wounded on stretchers, and encouraging others to do their part.

Once inside the dismal prison camps, Kapaun risked his life by sneaking around the camp after dark, foraging for food, caring for the sick, and encouraging his fellow Soldiers to sustain their faith and their humanity. On at least one occasion, he was brutally punished for his disobedience, being forced to sit outside in subzero weather without any garments. When the Chinese instituted a mandatory re-education program, Kapaun patiently and politely rejected every theory put forth by the instructors. Later, Kapaun openly flouted his captors by conducting a sunrise service on Easter morning, 1951.

After coming down with a bout of dysentery accompanied by pneumonia, Kapaun was sent to the camp’s “hospital,” which POWs called the “death house,” a place with little-to-no medical care. As he was being carried to the hospital, he asked God’s forgiveness for his captors, and made his fellow prisoners promise to keep their faith.   Kapaun died two days later, on May 23, 1951, at the age of 35.

Chaplain Emil J. Kapaun repeatedly risked his own life to save the lives of hundreds of fellow Americans. His extraordinary courage, faith, and leadership inspired thousands of prisoners to survive hellish conditions, and retain their faith in God and country.

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Thursday will mark another milestone for Army chaplains.  Chaplain (CPT) Emil Kapaun will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his heroic and selfless acts of November, 1950.

Kapaun was a Kansas native.  He was born on April 20, 1916 and was raised on a farm near Pilsen.  In 1940 he was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest at what is now Newman University in Wichita, Kansas.  He became a military chaplain with the US Army in 1944.  He was sent to India and served in the Burma Theater.  He was one of many chaplains who rejoined the military during the early days of the Korean War.

Below is a column from Mark W. Johnson, Ph.D., Branch Historian, U.S. Army Chaplain Corps, describing the events and lives of eight Army chaplains during the early part of that conflict.

Under Fire:  Chaplains in Korea, 1950


The start of hostilities in Korea during June 1950 caught most American officials off guard, and those in charge of the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps were no exception. For the previous five years, America’s military focus had been on divesting itself of the huge force that had been employed during World War Two. There were 8,141 Army chaplains on active duty as that war ended in 1945; by the end of 1947, only a little more than 1,100 remained. Nearly 500 of those transferred to the recently-established U.S. Air Force in 1949. On the eve of the North Korean attack on South Korea, there were 706 active duty Army chaplains, with more in the National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve.

With war again a reality in 1950, the Army had to rapidly expand. Having just gone through the painful process of involuntarily releasing chaplains from active duty and forcing them into reserve status, the Chaplain Corps now had to reverse the process and recall reserve chaplains to active duty. Chaplain authorizations would more than double in the coming years, topping out at 1,618 in 1953. Even though numerous chaplains entered the active force through reserve component mobilizations, individual recalls, and an intense recruiting effort, the number of chaplains serving never matched what was authorized. Many veterans of World War Two were understandably reluctant to volunteer for combat duty again, and popular support for the war would wane during its final years as the conflict devolved into a stalemate.


While America mobilized in 1950, America’s Army went to war. The first American ground forces to deploy to Korea were the divisions that had been stationed in Japan as occupation forces following World War Two. In trying to stem the tide that was the North Korean invasion of South Korea, many hastily-deployed American units found themselves in desperate situations; it often came down to more of a battle for survival than it was an attempt to inflict harm on the enemy. Chaplains assigned to those units found themselves spending far more time comforting the wounded and praying for the fallen–and trying to evade capture–than they did in ministering to the living.

The first chaplain to serve in Korea deployed there with the initial American ground force to enter the conflict: Task Force Smith, an under strength battalion of the 24th Infantry Division’s 21st Infantry Regiment. The battalion’s chaplain, Carl R. Hudson, had been looking forward to a routine tour of garrison duty in Japan upon his assignment to the unit a few weeks beforehand. Chaplain Hudson and the rest of the task force’s 540 soldiers had little time to do anything after settling into a defense position just north of the town of Osan during the early morning hours of July 5, 1950. A large force of North Korean tanks and infantry attacked just a few hours later. By early afternoon the task force was completely overrun, its survivors scattered. Chaplain Hudson, along with the battalion’s surgeon and a large group of walking wounded, spent most of the following night and day making their way southward to the safety of the nearest American unit.


Other chaplains of the 24th Infantry Division had experiences similar to that of Hudson during that difficult month of July 1950, narrowly escaping as one American position after another fell before the North Korean advance. All survived, with the exception of Chaplain Herman G. Felhoelter of the 19th Infantry Regiment. With his battalion falling back as the American position along the Kum River collapsed, Felhoelter volunteered to remain behind with a group of critically wounded men. A North Korean patrol came upon the group and executed the prostrate soldiers and their praying chaplain. Felhoelter was the first of twelve chaplains to die in action or as a prisoner during the Korean War. The second also perished in July 1950, when Chaplain Byron D. Lee of the 35th Infantry Regiment (25th Infantry Division) was mortally wounded during an attack from an enemy aircraft.

Amazingly enough, no chaplains were captured during those confusing initial months of the Korean War despite all the American setbacks. That would change within a few months, however. After the front stabilized at the Pusan Perimeter and then the Inchon Invasion changed the strategic focus of the war, during the final months of 1950 American units and other forces of the United Nations command no longer retreated but instead advanced deep into North Korean territory. China entered the war in October 1950, when American and South Korean troops approached the Yalu River, the border between Korea and China. The first major American-Chinese clash took place near the town of Unsan during the first week of November, when a powerful Chinese attack overwhelmed the 1st Cavalry Division’s 8th Cavalry Regiment. The regiment’s battered 1st and 2d battalions managed to withdraw, but the 3d battalion was surrounded and largely annihilated. The 3d battalion’s chaplain, Emil J. Kapaun, was captured.


The 1950 Chinese counteroffensive generated heavy casualties on both sides. Within a month of Kapaun’s capture, three more chaplains also became prisoners of war: Kenneth C. Hyslop (19th Infantry Regiment), Wayne H. Burdue (2d Engineer Battalion, 2d Infantry Division), and Lawrence F. Brunnert (32d Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division). Two other chaplains were killed during those weeks: Samuel R. Simpson (38th Infantry Regiment, 2d Infantry Division) and James W. Conner (31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division). The fate of the four captured chaplains was unknown until the release of surviving American prisoners in 1953. Sadly, none of the four chaplain POWs survived their incarcerations.

For the opening battles of the Korean War, as with most wars, those who are already in uniform at the start of the conflict bore the burden of the opening battles. The eight chaplains lost in 1950 were all members of the pre-war Chaplain Corps. Six were veterans of World War Two. Burdue, Lee, and Simpson had served continuously since the 1940s without a break in service. Hyslop, Kapaun, and Felhoelter also served in World War Two, but were released from active duty in 1946. Within two years, however, they decided to continue their service to God and country; all three volunteered for recall to active duty in 1948. Conner and Brunnert joined the others in the pre-war era, being commissioned in 1948 and 1949 respectively.


None of these eight veteran chaplains knew what the year 1950 would bring, but all rose to the challenges that came with ministering to Soldiers under fire. Only a few received public recognition for the actions that ultimately cost them their lives: Conner was awarded the Silver Star, Felhoelter the Distinguished Service Cross, and Kapaun received numerous awards. It is safe to say that all eight earned the undying thanks and gratitude of the Soldiers they served–the only award for which any of them would have asked.

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