Tuesday 13 September 2016

A Shepherd in Combat Boots: Chaplain Emil Kapaun of the 1st Cavalry Division - William L. Maher

A Shepherd in Combat Boots:
Chaplain Emil Kapaun of the 1st Cavalry Division
William L. Maher
Burd Street Press
ISBN 9781572493056
ISBN 9781572490697

I do not read a lot of physical books any more. In fact in the range of 30 or 40 eBooks to every physical book. But this book came highly recommended to me and I am very grateful I took the risk. I did not know much about the book, the author or even the subject. But I respected the friend who recommended it enough to take the risk.

This was a very powerful story. My own grandfather served in Korea with the Canadian Forces, and though he was Scotch Presbyterian, and did not like to tell stories about his time in service, we had heard a few over the years. Nothing like the stories in this book. The description of the book is:

"Early in the Korean War Chinese forces surrounded troops of the 1st Cavalry Division. Trying to escape-the American soldiers warned Catholic Chaplain Emil Kapaun. However, he refused to leave his wounded comrades and became a POW. His decision marked a turning point in the inspiring life of this young catholic priest.

Raised on a farm in Kansas, Kapaun served as pastor in his hometown until he became an army chaplain during World War II. The book describes the beginning of the Korean conflict and how Chinese forces surrounded Kapaun and other Cavalrymen in the freezing hills of North Korea.

Kapaun's faith and courage on the battlefield and in prison set an example for hundreds of young American captives. When they were starving he stole food for them. If the men needed encouragement he defied prison rules and prayed with them. When the communist guards mocked his faith in God, the chaplain publicly defended his beliefs.

When Kapaun became sick, the communists denied him medicine and watched him die in their vermin-infested "hospital." However, they could not extinguish the memories of how he served other prisoners. The army awarded the chaplain the Distinguished Service Cross and the Vatican named him "Servant of God." This book is a well-documented biography of an extraordinary person."

This book does more than that though. Through reading the life story of this farm boy from Kansas, who became a priest and twice volunteered for active service as a military Chaplin is inspiration.  This book is a challenge. It will challenge our simple life, and our faith. While reading this book and looking at Emil's example I have found myself praying more, trying harder to be an example each and every day. Giving 100% to my work, my co-worker's and my friends and family.

The first three quarters of the book is the back story. Emil's life up and including Capture by the Chinese army in North Korea. The last part of the book is life in prison camps and as a POW.

Emil was a man's man, he was kind, generous, caring and he lived to serve. This story has so inspired me I have already picked up another biography to read. His canonization process is underway. And I hope to see it completed. The words others spoke of him, other Christians, Jews, even Muslims and of course Catholics attest to his influence on all he met.  And based on the samples of his writings in this book, I can only hope that someday we will see published volumes of his letters, sermons or academic work.

This book was an incredible read. To witness someone living such character in the face of the terrible conditions can give hope to all of us who strive to live and be more for God.

Reviews of other books by and about Father Emil Kapaun:

(Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: A Year of Reading Intention - Catholic Reading!)

Reviews of other books about Military Chaplains:
The Grunt Padre: Father Vincent Robert Capodanno Vietnam 1966-1967 - Daniel L. Mode
The Priest Barracks Dachau 1938-1945 - Guillaume Zeller
Blessings from the Battlefield - Edited by Thomas R. O'Brien

Heroic Catholic Chaplains: Stories of the Brave and Holy Men Who Dodged Bullets While Saving Souls
Fr Willie Doyle & World War I: A Chaplain's Story - K.V. Turley
Armed with Faith The Life of Father Vincent R. Capodanno, MM - Stephen M. Digiovanni

For all reviews and articles about Military Chaplains click here.

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