November 2, 1950  The Shepherd wore Combat Boots

Chaplain Kapaun once lost his Mass kit to enemy fire. He earned a Bronze Star in September of 1950, when he ran through intense enemy fire to rescue a wounded soldier. His was no rear-echelon ministry.

Kapaun5Emil Joseph Kapaun was the son of Czech immigrants, a farm kid who grew up in 1920s Kansas. Graduating from Pilsen High, class of 1930, he spent much of the 30s in theological seminary, becoming an ordained priest of the Roman Catholic faith on June 9, 1940.

Kapaun served as military chaplain toward the end of WWII, before leaving the army in 1946, and rejoining in 1948.

Father Kapaun was ordered to Korea a month after the North invaded the South, joining the 8th Cavalry Regiment of the 1st Cavalry Division, out of Fort Bliss.

His unit entered combat at the Pusan perimeter, moving steadily northward through the summer and fall of 1950. Kapaun would minister to the dead and dying, performing baptisms, hearing first confessions, offering Holy Communion and celebrating Mass from an improvised altar set up on the hood of a jeep.

He once lost his Mass kit to enemy fire. He earned a Bronze Star in September that year, when he ran through intense enemy fire to rescue a wounded soldier. His was no rear-echelon ministry.

Kapaun2A single regiment was attacked by the 39th Chinese Corps on November 1, and completely overrun the following day. For the 8th Cav., the battle of Unsan was one of the most devastating defeats of the Korean War. Father Kapaun was ordered to evade, an order he defied. He was performing last rites for a dying soldier, when he was seized by Chinese communist forces.

Prisoners were force marched 87 miles to a Communist POW camp near Pyoktong, in North Korea. Conditions in the camp were gruesome. 1st Lt. Michael Dowe was among the prisoners, it’s through him that we know much of what happened there. Dowe later described Father Kapaun trading his watch for a blanket, only to cut it up to fashion socks for the feet of prisoners.

Father Kapaun would risk his life, sneaking into the fields around the prison compound to look for something to eat. He would always bring it back to the communal pot.

Kapaun4Chinese Communist guards would taunt him during daily indoctrination sessions, “Where is your god now?” Before and after these sessions, he would move through the camp, ministering to Catholic and non-Catholic alike. Kapaun would slip in behind every work detail, cleaning latrines while other prisoners argued over who’d get the job. He’d wash the filthy laundry of those made weak and incontinent with dysentery.

Starving, suffering from a blood clot in his leg and a severe eye infection, Father Kapaun defied his communist captors to lead Easter services in April, 1951. He was incapacitated a short time later. Chinese guards carried him off to a “hospital” – a fetid, stinking part of the camp known to prisoners as the “Death House”, from which few ever returned. “If I don’t come back”, he said, “tell my Bishop that I died a happy death.”

Kapaun1In the end, he was too weak to lift the plate that held the meager meal the guards left for him. US Army records report that he died of pneumonia on May 6, 1951, but his fellow prisoners will tell you that he died on May 23, of malnutrition and starvation. He was 35.
Scores of men credit their own survival in that place, to Chaplain Kapaun.

In 2013, President Barack Obama presented Kapaun’s family with the Medal of Honor, posthumous, for his heroism at Unsan. The New York Times reported that April: “The chaplain “calmly walked through withering enemy fire” and hand-to-hand combat to provide medical aid, comforting words or the last rites of the Roman Catholic Church to the wounded, the citation said. When he saw a Chinese soldier about to execute a wounded comrade, Sgt. First Class Herbert A. Miller, he rushed to push the gun away. Mr. Miller, now 88, was at the White House for the ceremony with other veterans, former prisoners of war and members of the Kapaun family”.

Pope John Paul II named Father Kapaun a “Servant of God” in 1993, the first step toward Roman Catholic Sainthood. On November 9, 2015, the Catholic Diocese of Wichita submitted a 1,066 page report on the life of Chaplain Kapaun, to the Roman Curia at the Vatican. A team of six historians reviewed the case for beatification. On June 21, 2016, the committee unanimously approved the petition.

The Medal at Last
In this photo provided by Col. Raymond A. Skeehan, Father Emil Kapaun celebrates Mass using the hood of his jeep as an altar, as his assistant, Patrick J. Schuler, kneels in prayer in Korea on Oct. 7, 1950, less than a month before Kapaun was taken prisoner. Kapaun died in a prisoner of war camp on May 23, 1951, his body wracked by pneumonia and dysentery. (AP Photo/Col. Raymond A. Skeehan via The Wichita Eagle)

The Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the committee of cardinals which makes recommendations concerning sainthood to the Pope, have taken the position that Kapaun would not be declared a martyr, a step which would have greatly accelerated the Pilsen, Kansas native toward sainthood.  Fellow prisoners and Korean War veterans have argued passionately, (I personally know one of them) that Kapaun was killed by Chinese Army prison guards, for standing up for his faith.  Vatican officials counter that no one actually saw Kapaun die.  Witnesses only saw the Father being carried away and, ever watchful over the credibility of its own sainthood investigations, the matter continues under Church review.

Wichita Bishop Carl Kemme believes that full canonization will not take place until 2020, at the earliest.

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August 31, 1959 Sgt. Reckless

Reckless “went straight up” the first time she heard an RCLR go off, despite being loaded down with six shells. All four feet left the ground and she came down trembling with fear, but Coleman was able to soothe her. The second time she snorted. By the fourth she didn’t bother to look up.  She was happily munching on a discarded helmet liner.

A Recoilless Rifle is a type of lightweight tube artillery. Think of a portable cannon. Kind of a bazooka, really, only the Recoilless fires modified shells rather than rockets. The back blast of these shells compensates for the mule’s kick which would otherwise be expected from such a weapon, making the rifle “recoilless”.

While that reduces projectile range, reduced gas pressures permit a thinner-walled barrel, resulting in a weapon light enough to be served by a 2 to 3-man crew, and shoulder fired by a single infantryman.

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The “RCLR” weapon system has provided the punch of artillery to mobile troop formations since the early days of WWII, including Airborne, Special Forces and Mountain units.

The problem arises when combat operations consume ammunition faster than the supply chain can replace it. Mountainous terrain makes the situation worse. Even today in the more mountainous regions of Afghanistan, there are times when the best solution for the problem, is horsepower.

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Ah Chim-hai was a chestnut mare of mixed Mongolian and Thoroughbred lineage, a race horse at the track in Seoul, South Korea. Her name translated as “Flame of the Morning”.
Lieutenant Eric Pedersen of the recoilless rifle platoon, anti-tank company of the 5th Marine Regiment, needed a pack animal to carry the weapon’s 24-lb shells up Korean mountain passes. In October 1952, Pederson received permission from regimental commander Colonel Eustace P. Smoak, to buy a horse for his platoon.

Lt. Pederson and stable boy Kim Huk-moon agreed on a price of $250, and Pederson paid with his own money. Kim cried on watching his “Flame” leave the stable, but the sale had a higher purpose.  The boy’s sister had stepped on a land mine, and badly needed a prosthetic leg.

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The Marines called the new recruit “Reckless” – a nod to the weapon system she was meant to serve, and to the fighting spirit of the 5th Marines.

Pederson wrote to his wife in California to send a pack saddle, while Gunnery Sergeant Joseph Latham and Private First Class Monroe Coleman provided for her care and training.

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Navy Hospitalman First Class George “Doc” Mitchell provided most of Reckless’ medical care, Latham taught her battlefield skills: how to step over communication wires, when to lie down under fire, how to avoid becoming entangled in barbed wire. She learned to run for cover, at the cry “Incoming!”

The platoon built her a bunker and fenced off a pasture, but soon Reckless was allowed to roam freely throughout the camp. She’d enter tents at will, sometimes spending the night if it was cold.

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She’d eat anything: bacon, mashed potatoes, shredded wheat.  She loved scrambled eggs.  Just about anything else that a Marine wasn’t watching closely enough, as well. Reckless even ate her horse blanket once, and she loved a beer. Mitchell had to warn his fellow Marines against giving her more than two Cokes a day, which she’d drink out of a helmet. Once, she ate $30 worth of winning poker chips.

General Randolph McCall Pate, a veteran of Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima and Korea, served as the 21st Commandant of the Marine Corps from 1956 – ’59.  Pate wrote: “I was surprised at her beauty and intelligence, and believe it or not, her esprit de corps. Like any other Marine, she was enjoying a bottle of beer with her comrades. She was constantly the center of attraction and was fully aware of her importance. If she failed to receive the attention she felt her due, she would deliberately walk into a group of Marines and, in effect, enter the conversation. It was obvious the Marines loved her.”  Reckless was a Marine.

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Reckless “went straight up” the first time she heard an RCLR go off, despite being loaded down with six shells. All four feet left the ground and she came down trembling with fear, but Coleman was able to soothe her. The second time she snorted. By the fourth she didn’t bother to look up.  She was happily munching on a discarded helmet liner.

Recoilless rifle tactics call for fire teams to fire four or five rounds, and then relocate before the enemy can shoot back. Reckless usually learned the route after one or two trips, often traveling alone to deliver supplies on the way up, and evacuate wounded on the way down.

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In February 1953, Captain Dick Kurth and his Fox Company were fighting for a hill called “Detroit”. Reckless made 24 trips by herself, carrying a total 3,500lbs of ammunition over 20 miles. She made 51 solo trips that March, during the battle for Outpost Vegas. Reckless carried 9,000lbs of ammunition in a single day, over 35 miles of open rice paddies and steep hills. At times, artillery exploded around her at the rate of 500 rounds per minute. She was wounded twice during the battle. That night, she was too exhausted to do anything but hang her head while they rubbed her down.

Reckless was the first horse in Marine Corps history to participate in an amphibious landing. She was wounded twice, and later awarded two Purple Hearts and a Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal. Her name appears on Presidential Unit citations from the United States and the Republic of Korea.

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On August 31, 1959, Reckless was promoted to Staff Sergeant in a ceremony at Camp Pendleton. 1,900 of her 5th Marine comrades attended, as did two of her sons, “Fearless” and “Dauntless”. A third, “Chesty”, was unavailable to attend.

General Pate wrote: “In my career I have seen many animals that have been adopted by Marines, but never in all my experience have I seen one which won the hearts of so many as did. . .Reckless.”

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Life Magazine published a collector’s edition in 1997, listing 100 heroes from American history. Alongside the names of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, Sally Ride and Abraham Lincoln, was that of a small Mongolian horse. Sergeant Reckless.

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May 6, 1951 A Shepherd in Combat Boots

In the end, Father Kapaun was too weak to lift the plate holding the meager ration the guards had left for him. US Army records report that he died of pneumonia on May 6, 1951.  He was 35.

Emil Joseph Kapaun was the son of Czech immigrants, a farm kid who grew up in 1920s Kansas. Graduating from Pilsen High, class of 1930, he spent much of the 30s in theological seminary, becoming an ordained priest of the Roman Catholic faith on June 9, 1940.

download (64)Kapaun served as military chaplain toward the end of WWII, before leaving the army in 1946, and rejoining in 1948.

Father Kapaun was ordered to Korea a month after the North invaded the South, joining the 8th Cavalry Regiment of the 1st Cavalry Division, out of Fort Bliss.

His unit entered combat at the Pusan perimeter, moving steadily northward through the summer and fall of 1950. Kapaun would minister to the dead and dying, performing baptisms, hearing first confessions, offering Holy Communion and celebrating Mass from an improvised altar set up on the hood of a jeep.

Kapaun once lost his Mass kit to enemy fire. He earned a Bronze Star in September that year, when he ran through intense enemy fire to rescue a wounded soldier. His was no rear-echelon ministry.

sdut-rev-emil-kapaun-hero-2016may26

A single regiment was attacked by the 39th Chinese Corps on November 1, and completely overrun the following day. For the 8th Cav., the battle of Unsan was one of the most devastating defeats of the Korean War. Father Kapaun was ordered to evade, an order he defied. He was performing last rites for a dying soldier, when he was seized by Chinese communist forces.

Prisoners were force marched 87 miles to a Communist POW camp near Pyoktong, in North Korea. Conditions in the camp were gruesome. 1st Lt. Michael Dowe was among the prisoners, it’s through him that we know much of what happened there. Dowe later described Father Kapaun trading his watch for a blanket, only to cut it up to fashion socks for the feet of fellow prisoners.

download (63)

Father Kapaun would risk his life, sneaking into the fields around the prison compound to look for something to eat. He would always bring it back to the communal pot.

Chinese Communist guards would taunt him during daily indoctrination sessions, “Where is your god now?” Before and after these sessions, he would move through the camp, ministering to Catholic and non-Catholic alike. Kapaun would slip in behind every work detail, cleaning latrines while other prisoners argued over who’d get the job. He’d wash the filthy laundry of those made weak and incontinent with dysentery.

Screen shot 2012-04-30 at 6.50.19 AMStarving, suffering from a blood clot in his leg and a severe eye infection, Father Kapaun led Easter services in April, 1951. He was incapacitated a short time later. Chinese guards carried him off to a “hospital” – a fetid, stinking part of the camp known to prisoners as the “Death House”, from which few ever returned. “If I don’t come back”, he said, “tell my Bishop that I died a happy death.”

In the end, Father Kapaun was too weak to lift the plate holding the meager ration the guards had left for him. US Army records report that Fr. Kapaun died of pneumonia on May 6, 1951.

His fellow prisoners will tell you that he died on the 23rd, of malnutrition and starvation. He was 35.

Scores of men credit their survival to Chaplain Kapaun. In 2013, President Barack Obama presented Kapaun’s family with the Medal of Honor, posthumous, for his heroism at Unsan. The New York Times reported that April, “The chaplain “calmly walked through withering enemy fire” and hand-to-hand combat to provide medical aid, comforting words or the last rites of the Roman Catholic Church to the wounded, the citation said. When he saw a Chinese soldier about to execute a wounded comrade, Sgt. First Class Herbert A. Miller, he rushed to push the gun away. Mr. Miller, now 88, was at the White House for the ceremony with other veterans, former prisoners of war and members of the Kapaun family”.

Cmoh_armyPope John Paul II named Father Kapaun a “Servant of God” in 1993, the first step toward Roman Catholic Sainthood. On November 9, 2015, the Catholic Diocese of Wichita submitted a 1,066 page report on the life of Chaplain Kapaun, to the Roman Curia at the Vatican. A team of six historians reviewed the case for beatification. On June 21, 2016, the committee unanimously approved the petition. At the time I write this, Father Emil Joseph Kapaun’s supporters continue working to have him declared a Saint of the Roman Catholic Church, for his lifesaving ministrations at Pyoktong.

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December 28, 1955 Juche

In the “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” (DPRK), Kim Il-sung built a cult of personality, a communist totalitarian dictatorship established under an ideology known as “Juche”, (JOO-chay)

We tend to look at WW2 in a kind of historical box, with a beginning and an end.  In reality, we feel the effects of WWII to this day.  Just as the modern boundaries (and many of the problems) of the Middle East were shaped by WWI, the division of the Korean Peninsula was borne of WWII.

Korea’s brief period of modern sovereignty ended in 1910, when the country was annexed by Imperial Japan. After the Japanese surrender in 1945, Korea was divided into two occupied zones; the north held by the Soviet Union and the south by the United States.

The Cairo Declaration of 1943 called for a unified Korea, but cold war tensions hardened the separation. By 1948, the two Koreas had separate governments, each with its own diametrically opposite governing philosophy.

Kim Il-sung came to power in North Korea in 1946, nationalizing key industries and collectivizing land and other means of production. South Korea declared statehood in May 1948, under the vehemently anti-communist military strongman, Syngman Rhee.

Both governments sought control of the Korean peninsula, but the 1948-49 withdrawal of Soviet and most American forces left the south holding the weaker hand. Escalating border conflicts along the 38th parallel led to war when the North, with assurances of support from the Soviet Union and Communist China, invaded South Korea in June 1950.

koreanwar-fourmaps1200Sixteen countries sent troops to South Korea’s aid, about 90% of whom were Americans.  The Soviets sent material aid to the North, while Communist China sent troops. The Korean War lasted three years, causing the death or disappearance of over 2,000,000 on all sides, combining military and civilian.

The Korean War ended in July 1953.  The two sides technically remain at war to this day, staring each other down over millions of land mines in a fortified demilitarized zone spanning the width of the country.

Korea at Night, NASAThe night-time satellite image of the two Koreas, tells the story of what happened next.  In the south, the Republic of Korea (ROK) developed into a successful constitutional Republic, a G-20 nation with an economy ranking 11th in the world in nominal GDP, and 13th in terms of purchasing power parity.

 

In the “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” (DPRK), Kim Il-sung built a cult of personality, a communist totalitarian dictatorship established under an ideology known as “Juche”, (JOO-chay).

The term translates as “independent stand” or “spirit of self-reliance”, its first known reference in a speech given by Kim Il-sung on December 28, 1955.  Theoretically based on independent thought, economic self-sufficiency and self-reliance in defense, “independence” applies to the collective, not to the individual, from whom absolute loyalty to the revolutionary party leader is required.

In practice, this principle puts one man at the center and above it all.  According to recent amendments to the DPRK constitution, that man will always be a well-fed member of the Kim family.

PulgasariSon of the founder of the Juche Ideal, Kim Jung Il, was an enthusiastic film buff. In a move that would make Caligula blush, Kim had South Korean film maker Shin Sang Ok kidnapped along with his actress ex-wife, Choi Eun Hee. After four years spent starving in a North Korean gulag, the couple accepted Kim’s “suggestion” to re-marry and go to work for him, producing the less-than-box-office-smash “Pulgasari”, a kind of North Korean Godzilla film.

The couple escaped, unlike untold numbers of unfortunates “recruited” with the help of chloroform soaked rags.

North Korea broke ground on the Ryugyong hotel in 1987, just in time for the Seoul Olympics the following year. 105 stories tall with eight revolving floors, the Ryugyong would be the tallest hotel in the world, if it ever opens.

Ryugyong hotel, 2017
Ryugyong hotel, 2017

Begun thirty years ago by the grandfather of the current “Dear Leader”, the “Hotel of Doom” is still under construction.  The project appears to hold particular significance for Kim Jung Un, who probably needs to show that he can get things done.  Perhaps 2018 will be the year.  For now, Travelocity notes under all its Pyongyang attractions: “Our online travel partners don’t provide prices for this accommodation, but we can search other options in Pyongyang”.

As the tallest unoccupied building in the world rose above the streets of Pyongyang, anywhere from 1 to 3 million North Koreans starved to death during the 1990s.

Authorities warned the nation of yet another famine impending in March 2016, the state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun editorializing that “We may have to go on an arduous march, during which we will have to chew the roots of plants once again.”

The DPRK government enforces its will with a murderous system of gulags, torture chambers and concentration camps, complete with crematoria.  A 2014 UN report estimated that “hundreds of thousands of political prisoners” have died in North Korean gulags over the past 50 years amid “unspeakable atrocities.”

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As of 2010, the DPRK Military had 7,679,000 active, reserve, and paramilitary personnel, in a nation of 25,000,000. Over 30% of the nation’s population, absorbing nearly 21% of GDP. Today, that military is under the personal control of a 33-year old who had his half-brother assassinated in Kuala Lumpur, using VX nerve gas.

The Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) and the “Hermit Kingdom” in North Korea have had more or less “normal” relations, since the 1979 Iranian Revolution.  The relationship isn’t all moonbeams and lollipops, but a cordial hatred for the United States have bound the two together, the last remaining members of President George W. Bush’ “Axis of Evil”.

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Recently, the Obama administration concluded a nuclear “deal” with Iran, replete with secret “side deals” and sealed with pallets of taxpayer cash.  CIA Director John Brennan conceded last September that his agency is “monitoring” whether North Korea is providing Iran with clandestine nuclear assistance.  It doesn’t seem a stretch.  There have been arms sales and “peaceful nuclear cooperation” between the two, since the 1980s.

The relationship between the two is now guided by the steady hands of the “Death to America” mullahs, and a man who banished Christmas and ordered North Koreans to worship his grandmother, as a god.   Two among five nations on earth, designated by the US State Department, as “State Sponsors of Terrorism.”  I can’t imagine what could go wrong.

November 2, 1950 A Shepherd in Combat Boots

Reporting on Kapaun’s Medal of Honor, the NY Times wrote “The chaplain “calmly walked through withering enemy fire” and hand-to-hand combat to provide medical aid, comforting words or the last rites of the Roman Catholic Church to the wounded, the citation said. When he saw a Chinese soldier about to execute a wounded comrade, Sgt. First Class Herbert A. Miller, he rushed to push the gun away. Mr. Miller, now 88, was at the White House for the ceremony with other veterans, former prisoners of war and members of the Kapaun family”.

image (1)Emil Joseph Kapaun was the son of Czech immigrants, a farm kid who grew up in 1920s Kansas. Graduating from Pilsen High, class of 1930, Kapaun spent much of the 30s in theological seminary, becoming an ordained priest of the Roman Catholic faith on June 9, 1940.

Kapaun served as military chaplain toward the end of WWII, before leaving the army in 1946 and rejoining in 1948.

Chaplain Kapaun was ordered to Korea a month after the North invaded the South, joining the 8th Cavalry Regiment of the 1st Cavalry Division, out of Fort Bliss.

The 8th Cav. entered combat at the Pusan perimeter, moving steadily northward through the summer and fall of 1950.  Father Kapaun would minister to the dead and dying, performing baptisms, hearing first confessions and offering holy communion.  He would celebrate mass from an improvised altar, set up on the hood of a jeep.Kapaun2

Kapaun once lost his mass kit to enemy fire. He earned a Bronze Star in September that year, running through intense enemy fire to rescue a wounded soldier. His was no rear-echelon ministry.

A single regiment was attacked by the entire 39th Chinese Corps on November 1, and completely overrun the following day.  For the US 8th Cavalry, the battle of Unsan was one of the most devastating defeats of the Korean War. Father Kapaun was ordered to evade, an order he deliberately defied. He was performing last rites for a dying soldier, when he was seized by Chinese communist forces.

Prisoners were force marched 87 miles to a Communist POW camp near Pyoktong, in North Korea. Conditions in the camp were gruesome. 1st Lieutenant Michael Dowe was among the prisoners.  Through him that we know much of what happened there. Dowe later described Father Kapaun trading his watch for a blanket, only to cut it up to fashion socks for the feet of prisoners.

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Fr. Kapaun holds a pipe, shot out of his mouth by an enemy sniper

Father Kapaun would risk his life, sneaking into the fields around the prison compound to look for something to eat. He would always bring it back to the communal pot.

Chinese Communist guards would taunt Kapaun, during daily indoctrination sessions, “Where is your god now?” Before and after these sessions, he would move through the camp, ministering to Catholic and non-Catholic alike. Kapaun would slip in behind every work detail, cleaning latrines while other prisoners argued over who’d get the job. He’d wash the filthy laundry of those made weak and incontinent with dysentery.

Starving, suffering from a blood clot in his leg and a severe eye infection, Father Kapaun led Easter services in April, 1951. He was incapacitated a short time later. Guards carried him off to a “hospital”, a fetid, stinking part of the camp known to prisoners as the “death house”, from which few ever returned. “If I don’t come back”, he said, “tell my Bishop that I died a happy death.”Kapaun1

Scores of men credit their survival at Pyoktong, to Chaplain Kapaun.

In the end, Father Kapaun was too weak to lift the plate holding the meager meal his guards left him. US Army records report that he died of pneumonia on May 6, 1951.  His fellow POWs will tell you that he died on May 23, of malnutrition and starvation. He was 35.

In 2013, President Barack Obama presented Kapaun’s family with a posthumous Medal of Honor for his heroism at Unsan. The New York Times reported that April, “The chaplain “calmly walked through withering enemy fire” and hand-to-hand combat to provide medical aid, comforting words or the last rites of the Roman Catholic Church to the wounded, the citation said. When he saw a Chinese soldier about to execute a wounded comrade, Sgt. First Class Herbert A. Miller, he rushed to push the gun away. Mr. Miller, now 88, was at the White House for the ceremony with other veterans, former prisoners of war and members of the Kapaun family“.

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The naming of a Saint of the Roman Catholic church is not a process taken lightly.  Pope John Paul II named Father Kapaun a “Servant of God” in 1993, the first step toward Sainthood. On November 9, 2015, the Catholic Diocese of Wichita submitted a 1,066 page report on the life of Chaplain Kapaun, to the Roman Curia at the Vatican.

A team of six historians reviewed the case for beatification. On June 21, 2016, the committee unanimously approved the petition. Two days later, the Wichita Eagle newspaper reported that Father Kapaun was one step closer to sainthood.  At the time I write this, Father Emil Joseph Kapaun’s supporters continue working to have him declared a Saint of the Roman Catholic Church, for his lifesaving ministrations at Pyoktong.

Emil Kapaun

October 13, 1926  “We’ll come back for you.”

Thomas Hudner was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on that frozen mountainside, the only Naval aviator awarded the Medal of Honor in the entire Korean Conflict.

Jesse LeRoy Brown was born this day in 1926 in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, the son of a schoolteacher and a warehouse worker.  He had all the disadvantages of a black boy growing up under depression-era segregation, but his parents kept him on the “straight & narrow”, insisting that he stuck with his studies.

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Thomas Jerome Hudner, 1950

Thomas Jerome Hudner, Jr. was born in 1924, the son of a successful Irish grocer from Fall River, Massachusetts who went on to attend the prestigious Phillips Academy in Andover, in 1939.

The two could not have come from more different backgrounds, but both men became United States Navy pilots, and served together during the conflict in Korea.

On June 25, 1950, ten divisions of the North Korean People’s Army launched a surprise invasion of their neighbor to the south.  The 38,000 man army of the Republic of Korea didn’t have a chance against 89,000 men sweeping down in six columns from the north.  Within hours, the shattered remnants of the army of the ROK and its government, were retreating south toward the capital of Seoul.

The United Nations security council voted to send troops to the Korean peninsula.  In November, the People’s Republic of China entered the conflict in support of their Communist neighbor.

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Jesse LeRoy Brown, 1950

By December, nearly 100,000 troops of the People’s Volunteer Army had all but overrun the 15,000 men of the US X Corps, who found themselves surrounded in the frozen wasteland of the Chosin Reservoir.  Dozens of close air support missions were being flown every day to keep the Chinese army at bay.  On December 4, Jesse Brown and Thomas Hudner were flying one of those missions.

The two were part of a 6-plane formation of F4U Corsairs, each pilot flying “wing man” for the other.  Brown’s aircraft was hit by small arms fire from the ground, crash landing on a snow covered mountain side.  Flying overhead, Hudner could see his wing man below, severely injured, his leg trapped in the crumpled cockpit as he struggled to get out of the burning aircraft.

Hudner deliberately crash landed his own aircraft and, now injured, ran across the snow to the aid of his wing man.  Hudner scooped snow onto the fire with his bare hands in the 15° cold, burning himself in the progress while Brown faded in and out of consciousness.  A Marine Corps helicopter pilot landed, and the two went at the stricken aircraft for 45 minutes with an axe, but could not free the trapped pilot.

The pair was considering Jesse’s plea that they amputate his trapped leg with the axe, when the pilot faded away for the last time.  Jesse Brown’s last words were “Tell Daisy I love her”.

They had to leave.  “Night was coming on” Hudner would later explain, “and the helicopter was not equipped to fly in the dark.  We’ll come back for you”, he said.   Jesse Brown could no longer hear him.

Cmoh_armyHudner pleaded with authorities the following day to go back to the crash site, but they were unwilling to risk further loss of life. They would napalm the crash site so that the Chinese couldn’t get to the aircraft or the body, though pilots reported that it looked like the Brown’s body had already been disturbed.

Jesse LeRoy Brown was the first Black Naval Aviator in history.  The first to die in the Korean War.  He received the Distinguished Flying Cross and Purple Heart, posthumously.  Thomas Hudner was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on that frozen mountainside.  One of eleven to be so honored following the battle of the Chosin Reservoir, he was the only Naval aviator awarded the Medal of Honor, during the entire conflict in Korea.

Thomas Hudner visited the North Korean capital of Pyongyang in July 2013, where he received permission to return to the site.  He was 88 at the time, but weather hampered the effort.  North Korean authorities told him to return when the weather was more cooperative.

At the time I write this story, Thomas Hudner is 93, living in Concord Massachusetts with his wife, Georgea.  The remains of Jesse LeRoy Brown are still on that North Korean mountainside.

Lieutenant-Thomas-Hudner

August 31, 1959 Sergeant Reckless

Life Magazine published a collector’s edition in 1997, listing 100 heroes from American history.  Alongside the names of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, Sally Ride and Abraham Lincoln, was that of a small Mongolian horse.  Sergeant Reckless.

About RecklessA Recoilless Rifle is a type of lightweight tube artillery.  Think of a portable cannon.  Kind of a bazooka, really, only the Recoilless fires modified shells rather than rockets.   The back blast of these shells compensates for the mule’s kick to be expected from such a weapon, making the rifle “recoilless”.

While that reduces projectile range, reduced gas pressures permit a thinner-walled barrel, resulting in a weapon light enough to be served by a 2 to 3-man crew, and shoulder fired by a single infantryman.

The “RCLR” weapon system has provided the punch of artillery to mobile troop formations since the early days of WWII, including Airborne, Special Forces and Mountain units.

The problem arises when combat operations consume ammunition faster than the supply chain can replace it.  Mountainous terrain makes the situation worse.  Even today in the more mountainous regions of Afghanistan, there are times when the best solution for the problem, is horsepower.

Ah Chim-hai was a chestnut mare of mixed Mongolian and Thoroughbred lineage, a race horse at the track in Seoul, South Korea.  Her name translated as “Flame of the Morning”.

Lieutenant Eric Pedersen of the recoilless rifle platoon, anti-tank company, needed a pack animal to carry the weapon’s 24-lb shells up Korean mountain passes.  In October 1952, Pederson received permission to buy a horse for his platoon.  Pederson and stable boy Kim Huk-moon agreed on a price of $250.  Kim cried on watching his “Flame” leave the stable, but the boy’s sister had stepped on a land mine, and needed a prosthetic leg.

The Marines called her “Reckless” – a nod to the weapon system she was meant to serve, and to the fighting spirit of the 5th Marines.

Recoilless Rifle, Korea
Recoilless Rifle team on a Korean Ridge

Pederson wrote to his wife in California to send a pack saddle, while Gunnery Sergeant Joseph Latham and Private First Class Monroe Coleman provided for her care and training.

Navy Hospitalman First Class George “Doc” Mitchell provided most of Reckless’ medical care, Latham taught her battlefield skills:  how to step over communication wires, when to lie down under fire, how to avoid becoming entangled in barbed wire.  She learned to run for cover, at the cry “Incoming!”

The platoon built her a bunker and fenced off a pasture, but soon Reckless was allowedSergeant Reckless ejoys a beer to roam freely throughout the camp.  She’d enter tents at will, sometimes spending the night if it was cold.

She’d eat anything:   bacon, mashed potatoes, scrambled eggs, shredded wheat.  Just about anything else that a Marine wasn’t watching closely enough, as well.  Reckless even ate her horse blanket once, and she loved a beer.  Mitchell had to warn his fellow Marines against giving her more than two Cokes a day, which she’d drink out of a helmet.  Once, she ate $30 worth of winning poker chips.  Reckless was a Marine.

Sergeant Reckless, 2She “went straight up” the first time she heard an RCLR go off, despite being loaded down with six shells.  All four feet left the ground and she came down trembling with fear, but Coleman was able to soothe her.  The second time she snorted.  By the fourth she didn’t bother to look up. She was happily munching on a discarded helmet liner.

Recoilless rifle tactics call for fire teams to fire four or five rounds, and then relocate before the enemy can return fire.  Reckless usually learned the route after one or two trips, often traveling alone to deliver supplies on the way up, and evacuate wounded on the way down.

Sergeant RecklessIn February 1953, Captain Dick Kurth and his Fox Company were fighting for a hill called “Detroit”.  Reckless made 24 trips by herself, carrying a total 3,500lbs of ammunition over 20 miles.  She made 51 solo trips that March, during the battle for Outpost Vegas.  Reckless carried 9,000lbs of ammunition in a single day, over 35 miles of open rice paddies and steep hills.  At times, artillery exploded around her at the rate of 500 rounds per minute.  She was wounded twice during the battle.  That night, she was too exhausted to do anything but hang her head while they rubbed her down.

Sergeant Reckless, arrivingReckless was the first horse in Marine Corps history to participate in an amphibious landing.  She was wounded twice, and later awarded two Purple Hearts and a Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal.  Her name appears on Presidential Unit citations from the United States and the Republic of Korea.

On August 31, 1959, Reckless was promoted to Staff Sergeant in a ceremony at Camp Pendleton.  1,900 of her 5th Marine comrades attended, as did two of her sons, “Fearless” and “Dauntless”.  A third, “Chesty”, was unavailable to attend.

General Randolph McCall Pate, a veteran of Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima and Korea, served as the 21st Commandant of the Marine Corps, from 1956-1959.  General Pate once wrote “In my career I have seen many animals that have been adopted by Marines, but never in all my experience have I seen one which won the hearts of so many as did. . .Reckless.”

Life Magazine published a collector’s edition in 1997, listing 100 heroes from American history.  Alongside the names of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, Sally Ride and Abraham Lincoln, was that of a small Mongolian horse.  Sergeant Reckless.

Sergeant Reckless statue