Honor paid to those who gave the full measure
Welcome rain did nothing to deter military veterans from their duty Monday morning in paying tribute to the war dead in county cemeteries. Oskaloosa and Ozawkie American Legion Posts were joined by the Ozawkie Legion Riders to conduct services at seven cemeteries finishing at noon at Pleasant View in Oskaloosa.
Paul Reed, pastor of the First Baptist Church, Oskaloosa, delivered his 26th Memorial Day message at Pleasant View. Standing under an umbrella, he recalled the life of Emil Joseph Kapaun, a Catholic priest, who was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously by President Obama April 11.
The priest was a Kansas native born near Pilsen April 20, 1916.
Pastor Reed told how Kapaun was among the first Americans to hit the beaches after the Communist invasion of South Korea.
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, dodging bullets and explosions, Father Kapaun raced between foxholes, out past the front lines and into no-man’s land — dragging the wounded to safety.
When his commanders ordered an evacuation, he chose to stay — gathering the injured, tending to their wounds. When the enemy broke through and the combat was hand-to-hand, he carried on — comforting the injured and the dying, offering some measure of peace as they left this Earth.
Taken prisoner, he saved the life of an injured American and carried him for miles, as their captors forced them on a death march. When Father Kapaun grew tired, he’d help the wounded soldier hop on one leg. 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.
In the camps that winter, deep in a valley, men could freeze to death in their sleep. Father Kapaun offered them his own clothes. They starved on tiny rations of millet and corn and birdseed. He somehow snuck past the guards, foraged in nearby fields, and returned with rice and potatoes. In desperation, some men hoarded food. He convinced them to share. Their bodies were ravaged by dysentery. He grabbed some rocks, pounded metal into pots and boiled clean water. They lived in filth. He washed their clothes and he cleansed their wounds.
In awarding the medal, the president told of his last Easter. As the sun rose, he put on purple stole and led dozens of prisoners to the ruins of an old church in the camp. And he read from a prayer missal that they had kept hidden. He held up a small crucifix that he had made from sticks. And as the guards watched, Father Kapaun and all those prisoners — men of different faiths, perhaps some men of no faith — sang the Lord’s Prayer and “America the Beautiful.” They sang so loud that other prisoners across the camp not only heard them, they joined in, too — filling that valley with song and with prayer.
Kapaun developed a blood clot in his leg, dysentery, and pneumonia.He was so weak that the prison guards took him to the hospital, where he died of pneumonia May 23, 1951. He was buried in a mass grave near the Yalu River.
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