Saturday, February 23, 2013

Roman Collars, Iron Men

Servant of God Emil Kapaun celebrates Holy Mass on the hood of a jeep in 1950, less than a month before he was captured by the Communists.
The 68th anniversary of the raising of the Stars and Stripes on Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima seems a fitting moment to announce the news that Servant of God Emil Kapaun will be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his valor during the Korean War.  Father Kapaun, a captain in the U.S. Army, served bravely at the front, but even more bravely and daringly in the Communist prison camp to which he was confined after being captured on November 2, 1950.  The good priest would sneak out of his own compound in order to minister to the other prisoners, and, by the intercession of St. Dismas, the Good Thief, to scrounge for basic necessities to help them survive their hellish conditions.  He got even non-Catholic prisoners praying the Rosary, and also made himself irritating to the Communists by answering them back and openly defying them in their daily forced indoctrination sessions.  For a long time, they did not dare retaliate, for fear of provoking the other prisoners to rebellion; but when Father Kapaun came down with an eye infection and a blood clot in his leg, they seized the opportunity to carry him off to an isolated "hospital" and starve him to death.  His cause for sainthood opened in 2008.

Father Kapaun will be the latest in a line of American military chaplains awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor since World War II, every one of whom was a Catholic priest.  He is the second CMH chaplain to have a cause for sainthood.  The other CMH chaplains are:

Fr. Joseph Timothy O'Callahan, Commander, U.S. Naval Reserve.  Father O'Callahan was the only chaplain to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in World War II, out of 464 recipients.  He was awarded the CMH for his heroism aboard the U.S.S. Franklin under a withering Japanese attack on March 19, 1945.

Fr. Angelo J. Liteky, Captain, U.S. Army.  He was awarded the CMH for ministering to his men, directing medical evacuations, and personally rescuing more than 20 wounded men, all under heavy fire and despite being wounded himself, in Vietnam in December, 1967.

Fr. Charles Joseph Watters, Major, U.S. Army.  He was killed in action in Vietnam on November 19, 1967 while rescuing wounded men and ministering to them under heavy fire.

Servant of God Fr. Vincent Robert Capodanno, Lieutenant, U.S. Navy. On September 4, 1967, Father Capodanno ministered to his men and rescued the wounded under intense fire in Vietnam, refusing to stop even after sustaining serious wounds to his arms and legs and losing part of his right hand.  He finally fell under a burst of machine gun fire.

You can -- and should -- read their citations here.

And there are more brave soldier-priests than just those who have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.  You can read about some of them here, and find out why it is particularly fitting that priests wear the Roman collar, originally a military accoutrement.  May these shepherds in combat boots intercede for our poor country, and for our armed forces, who are being used as a laboratory for social experimentation, and among whom our Catholic chaplains are stretched far too thinly.

P.S. Here is an interesting item on Chesty Puller (an Episcopalian) and his admiration for Catholic chaplains.

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