Chaplain Emil J. Kapaun, while assigned to Headquarters Company, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism, patriotism, and selfless service Nov. 1-2, 1950. 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. He was taken as a prisoner of war by Chinese forces on Nov. 2, 1950.
Chaplain Capt. Emil Kapaun
After he was captured, Kapaun and other prisoners were marched for several days northward toward prisoner-of-war camps. During the march Kapaun led by example in caring for injured Soldiers, refusing to take a break from carrying the stretchers of the wounded while 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.
When Kapaun began to suffer from the physical toll of his captivity, the Chinese transferred him to a filthy, unheated hospital where he died alone. 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. Chaplain Kapaun died in captivity on May 23, 1951.
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, resist enemy indoctrination, and retain their faith in God and country. His actions reflect the utmost credit upon him, the 1st Cavalry Division, and the United States Army.
In 1921, the 8th Cavalry Regiment was one of the original units of the newly formed 1st Cavalry Division. The 8th Cavalry, symbolized by a proud and unconquered white Mustang, has had a long and distinguished history. The 8th Cavalry was formed at Angel Island, California in 1866 and fought throughout the West during the Indian Wars. Always ready to ride to wherever they were needed; in 1888 the Mustangs set the record for the longest mounted move by any American Cavalry Regiment, 2447 miles from Fort Concho, Texas to Fort Keough, Montana.
Following the outbreak of World War II, the 8th Cavalry saw action in the Southwest Pacific and holds the honor of being the first unit to enter the Philippine Capital of Manila.
When the conflict in Korea erupted, the 8th Cavalry conducted the first amphibious landing of the Korean War and was the first unit into the North Korean Capital of Pyongyang
U.S. Army Chaplain Corps History
The U.S. Army Chaplain Corps is a profession of religious and spiritual Soldiers and leaders who build the spiritual and moral resiliency of the Army family now and for the future. Chaplains, with the support of Chaplain Assistants, provide religious and emotional support to America’s Army while assisting commanders in ensuring the right of free exercise of religion for all Soldiers.
Since July 29, 1775, approximately 25,000 Army Chaplains have served as religious and spiritual leaders for 25 million Soldiers and their Families. From military installations to deployed combat units and from service schools to military hospitals, Army Chaplains and Chaplain Assistants have performed their ministries in the most religiously diverse organization in the world. Always present with their Soldiers in war and in peace, Army Chaplains have served in more than 270 major wars and combat engagements. Nearly 300 Army Chaplains have laid down their lives in battle. Six have been awarded the Medal of Honor. Currently, over 2,900 Chaplains are serving the Total Army representing over 130 different religious organizations.