Today President Obama is conferring the Congressional Medal of Honor on Father Emil Capaun, a chaplain killed in the Korean War.

Thursday, 4/11/13

Sunday’s paper told us that today President Obama is awarding the Congressional Medal of Honor to Father Emil Capaun, a Kansas priest killed in the Korean War. I never knew him or anyone who did know him, but in September 1953 I took part in the dedication of a chapel erected in honor of Father Capaun and four other priest chaplains killed in that war.  I was a seminary classmate of Father Ted Brunnert, who was the brother of one of the five.

As well, as a Columban Father, I had met six missionary priests killed by the Commies. Then, two of our priests who were with our GIs on a notorious death march were sent back through Siberia after three winters in a prison camp. One of them, Msgr. Tom Quinlan was my bishop for eleven years; while the other, the Aussie priest, Phil Crosbie, was my neighboring pastor for those eleven years. I heard from Phil much of what Father Capaun must have gone through as a prisoner.

Phil was building a chapel twenty-five miles over the mountains west of me, and one night I found Phil on my doorstep, trying to pull his boots off. He had walked over to show the people that a five mile walk was no excuse for missing Mass.

Some of Phil’s experiences were similar to what Father Capaun went through. When a young GI on the Death March sat down, Phil tried carrying him, but the boy insisted on being left. Fifty feet further on Phil heard the bullet that ended the boy’s life. Phil had gone nearly blind from malnutrition after three years of prison camp. He spoke of gathering twigs for a fire, and being completely lost a few feet from their hut. Back in his parish he recovered pretty well. His Aussie word for lively stories was “crack.” He’d say, “Sully, let’s hear some of your crack.”

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