Korean War

PopeWatch: North Korea

VATICAN-POPE-AUDIENCEWe will not buy an armistice by turning over human beings for slaughter or slavery.

Harry S Truman, 1952, in explaining his refusal to force the return of North Korean and Chinese POWs who wished to stay in the West.

An uncle of PopeWatch fought in the Korean War.  A Protestant, he was given a rosary by a Catholic family out in California just before he shipped out for Korea, the father of the family, a World War I vet, saying he carried it with him in France.  He carried it through bloody hill battles in Korea and it was with him every day after he got back to the States.  He used to tell PopeWatch that  the  best thing he had ever done in his life, outside of his family, was to fight to make certain that South Korea did not fall under Communism.

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The Marines Called Her Reckless

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“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.”

Lieutenant General Randolph Pate 

One of the most beloved members of the Marine Corps went into battle on four feet.  A mare of Mongolian mixed breed, the horse who would become Sergeant Reckless was foaled in 1948 in South Korea.  Originally named Ah Chim Hai, Morning Flame, she was sold to Lieutenant Eric Pederson, USMC,  for $250.00 in October of 1952.  (The owner was a stable boy who needed the money to buy an artificial leg for his sister who had stepped on a land mine.)

Pedersen bought the horse, which had been a race horse, to serve as a pack animal for his recoiless rifle platoon of the 5th Marine regiment.  The platoon called her Reckless after the platoon’s nickname of Reckless Rifles.  Gunnery Sergeant Joseph Latham gave Reckless an equine version of boot camp, known in her case as hoof camp.  He taught her how to avoid getting tangled up in barbed wire, how to lay down under fire, and to run to a bunker when hearing the shout “Incoming”.  Latham had his wife mail a pack saddle from the states so that Reckless could better fulfill her role of being a pack animal from the platoon.  Reckless quickly became a platoon favorite and was given the freedom to roam the platoon encampment at night and to enter tents at will.  She loved cokes and beer, and would eat with enthusiasm whatever she could get her mouth on, including, one dark day, $30.00 worth of winning poker chips of Latham.

However, Reckless quickly demonstrated that she was not a mere mascot or pet.  In the battle of Hedy’s Crotch she proved fearless in transporting shells for the recoiless rifles of the platoon.  At first alarmed by the sounds of the rifles going off, by the end of the day she was calmly going about her business.  A highly intelligent horse, she only needed to be led the first few times, and afterwards would make the trips bringing up the shells on her own.

At the battle of Outpost Vegas, March 26-28, 1953, she received a promotion to Corporal for her sterling service, including on one day 51 solo trip bringing up 386 shells.  She was slightly wounded twice during the engagement for which she was awarded two Purple Hearts.

Outside of battle Reckless performed many functions, including stringing telephone lines.  It was said that she could string telephone lines at a rate that it would take 12 men to match.  She enjoys the distinction of being the only horse to participate in a Marine Corps amphibious landing.  Continue reading

Uncle Ralph, the Rosary and the Korean War

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I love praying the Rosary.  It always has given me peace whenever I have recited it, and my family prays the Sorrowful Mysteries together each Lent.  However, the person who had the greatest devotion to the Rosary in my family was my Protestant Uncle Ralph.

When I was growing up my family lived next door to Uncle Ralph and his family.  Uncle Ralph was my favorite uncle.  He always had a sense of fun, loved to shoot the breeze with kids and did a hilarious Donald Duck imitation.  My Dad’s family were all Protestant;   my brother and I were Catholic because my Dad had married my Catholic Mom, so I was surprised one day during my teen years when Uncle Ralph pulled out his rosary and told me how he came to always carry it.

 

Ralph was a homesick 19 year old in 1951.  His Army National Guard unit had been called up for duty in the Korean War.  He was stationed in California waiting to be shipped out, when, one Sunday, he had dinner with a Catholic family under an Army sponsored program to give troops some home-cooked meals.  Ralph enjoyed himself immensely.  The family treated him like a long lost son and brother, and the meal was superb.  Ralph was relaxing after the meal when the father of the family, a WWI vet, handed him a Rosary.  “Here son, this got me safe back from France and I hope it does the same for you in Korea.”  Ralph wasn’t sure what a Rosary was, but he was touched by the gesture and he took the Rosary. Continue reading

Patrick J. Byrne, Bishop and Martyr

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Yesterday was the 60th anniversary of the armistice ending the Korean War.  That War produced many Christian martyrs as the Communist powers actively persecuted and murdered Christians luckless enough to fall into their hands.  One martyr that has never received the recognition that I believe he deserves is Bishop Patrick J. Byrne.

Born on October 26, 1888 in Washington DC, he was ordained in 1915 and joined the newly formed  The Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America, better known today as Maryknoll.  In 1923 he was chosen to begin the mission in Korea.  Named Prefect Apostolic of Pyongyang.  By the time he returned to the States in 1929 the Catholic population of Korea had increased by 25,000 and there were numerous Korean priests and sisters.

In 1935 he was assigned to open a mission in Kyoto, Japan and in 1937 was named Prefect Apostolic of Kyoto.  Kept under house arrest during the War, he broadcast calming messages to the Japanese people, at the request of the Japanese government following the surrender of Japan.  During the occupation of Japan, Supreme Allied Commander General Douglas MacArthur praised Monsignor Byrne for his assistance in helping bring peace to Japan.

In 1947 he was named Apostolic Visitor to Korea.  Two years later he was named the first Apostolic Delegate to Korea and titular Bishop of Gazera.

On July 11, 1950 he was seized by the Communists after the fall of Seoul and put on trial.  Bishop Byrne refused to be docile at the show trial and a second trial was held with similar results in Pyongyang.  He was then marched to the Yalu, a journey that took four months in appalling weather with almost no food or water.  He became ill with pneumonia and died on November 25, 1950.  The night before he died he told his companions: Continue reading

Pow Servant of God Receives Medal of Honor

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The POW Servant of God Father Emil Kapaun received the Medal of Honor on April 11, 2012.  Here is what he did to earn it.

Serving as a chaplain at Fort Bliss, Father Kapaun was ordered to Japan in 1950.  Upon the outbreak of the Korean War, he was assigned to a front line combat unit, the 3rd battalion, 8th cavalry regiment, 1rst Cavalry Division.

With his unit Father Kapaun participated during June-September 1950 in the desperate defense of the Pusan Perimeter and then in the breakout from the Pusan Perimeter, which, combined with the Inchon landings in Operation Chromite, the brilliant stroke by General Douglas MacArthur,  led to the eviction of the invading North Korean armies from South Korea and the capture of the North Korean capital of Pyongyang on October 19, 1950.  During all of this Father Kapaun was a whirlwind of activity:  tending the wounded, administering the Last Sacrament to the dying, keeping up the morale of the troops.  He said mass as close as he could get to the battle lines from an improvised platform on a jeep.

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On November 1, 1950 Chaplain Kapaun’s unit ran headlong into advancing Chinese Communist forces at Unsan, North Korea, about 50 miles south of the Chinese border with North Korea.   The official citation of the award of the Distinguish Service Cross to Chaplain Kapaun tells of his role in the battle:

The Distinguished Service Cross is presented to Emil Joseph Kapaun(O-0558217), Captain (Chaplain), U.S. Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection withmilitary operations against an armed enemy of the United Nations while serving as Chaplain with Headquarters Company, 8th Cavalry Regiment (Infantry), 1st Cavalry Division. Captain (Chaplain) Kapaun distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action against enemy aggressor forces in the vicinity of Unsan, Korea, on 1 and 2 November 1950.

On the afternoon of 1 November 1950, and continuing through the following 36 hours, the regiment was subjected to a relentless, fanatical attack by hostile troops attempting to break through the perimeter defense. In the early morning hours, the enemy succeeded in breaking through the defenses, and hand-to-hand combat ensued in the immediate vicinity of the command post where the aid station had been set up. Chaplain Kapaun, with complete disregard for his personal safety, calmly moved among the wounded men, giving them medical aid and easing their fears. His courageous manner inspired all those present and many men who might otherwise have fled in panic were encouraged by his presence and remained to fight the enemy.

As the battle progressed, the number of wounded increased greatly and it became apparent that many of the men would not be able to escape the enemy encirclement. Finally, at dusk on November 2, 1950, the remaining able- bodied men were ordered to attempt to break through the surrounding enemy. At this time, although fully aware of the great danger, Chaplain Kapaun voluntarily remained behind, and when last seen was administering medical treatment and rendering religious rites wherever needed.

Along with the other Americans captured Father Kapaun was marched north in bitterly cold winter weather approximately 100 miles.  One of his fellow prisoners, Herbert Miller, was wounded and had a broken ankle.  Mr. Miller survived the war and here is a recent statement by him on what happened next.  “I was wounded with a broken ankle and the North Koreans were going to shoot me. He brushed them aside, reached down and picked me up and carried me. How he found the strength, I’ll never know. He was the bravest man I ever saw.”

Father Kapaun and his fellow POWs were taken, after their two week march, to a temporary camp which they called The Valley located 10 miles south of Pyoktong, NorthKorea, the first in a series of camps in the area where Father Kapuan and the men from his unit were held.  Of the approximately 1000 Americans who were taken here 500-700 died.  I was astonished in researching this article to learn that during their first year of operation the Chinese POW camps had a death rate of 40%, which makes them worse than the Japanese POW camps during World War II in which approximately one-third of the Allied prisoners perished.

Then the events began which made Father Kapaun unforgettable to the men who survived this Gehenna on Earth.  First, the men needed food.  On the miserable rations they had from the Chinese they were starving to death.  Father Kapaun staged daring daylight raids into surrounding fields to scavenge for hidden potatoes and sacks of corn.  If he had been discovered it is quite likely that he would have been shot on the spot.  He always shared his food with the other men, and his example shamed his fellow prisoners who also scavenged for food outside of the camp to do the same and share their food. Continue reading

Korean War II?

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Otto von Bismarck, the ever quotable Chancellor of the Second Reich, predicted in 1888 that “One day the great European War will come out of some damned foolish thing in the Balkans.”  I have long thought the same on a global scale about North Korea and Iran, where military power is wielded by regimes that seem to view rationality as a cardinal sin.

SEOUL — North Korea dramatically escalated its warlike rhetoric on Thursday, warning that it had authorised plans for nuclear strikes on targets in the United States.

“The moment of explosion is approaching fast,” the North Korean military said, warning that war could break out “today or tomorrow”.

Pyongyang’s latest pronouncement came as Washington scrambled to reinforce its Pacific missile defences, preparing to send ground-based interceptors to Guam and dispatching two Aegis class destroyers to the region.

Tension was also high on the North’s heavily fortified border with South Korea, after Kim Jong-Un’s isolated regime barred South Koreans from entering a Seoul-funded joint industrial park on its side of the frontier.

In a statement published by the state KCNA news agency, the Korean People’s Army general staff warned Washington that US threats would be “smashed by… cutting-edge smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear strike means”.

“The merciless operation of our revolutionary armed forces in this regard has been finally examined and ratified,” the statement said.

Last month, North Korea threatened a “pre-emptive” nuclear strike against the United States, and last week its supreme army command ordered strategic rocket units to combat status.

But, while Pyongyang has successfully carried out test nuclear detonations, most experts think it is not yet capable of mounting a device on a ballistic missile capable of striking US bases or territory.

Mounting tension in the region could however trigger incidents on the tense and heavily militarised border between North and South Korea.

The White House was swift to react to Pyongyang’s latest “unhelpful and unconstructive threats”. Continue reading

POW Servant of God

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In the midst of a World War, Emil Kapaun was born in peaceful Pilsen, Kansas on August 20, 1916.  His parents were Czech immigrants and virtually everyone in the area spoke Czech.  From an early age Emil knew that he wanted to be a priest and would play mass with his younger brother.  Graduating from Conception Abbey seminary college in Conception Missouri in 1936,  Emil attended Kendrick Theological Seminary in Saint Louis, and was ordained a priest of the diocese of Wichita in June 1940.  Father Kapaun returned to his home parish Saint John Nepomucene in Pilsen as an assistant to Father Sklenar who, together with his Bishop, had paid the cost of his attendance at the seminary.  During these years Father Kapaun was also an auxiliary chaplain at Herington Air Base.  After the retirement of Father Sklenar in December 1943, Father Kapaun became pastor of his boyhood parish.  Receiving permission from his Bishop, Father Kapaun joined the army as a chaplain in July 1944.

Chaplain Kapaun’s intial assignment was as chaplain at Camp Wheeler in Georgia.  In April 1945 he was sent to the C-B-I (China-Burma-India) theater of operations.  While in the C-B-I he traveled over 2000 miles by jeep to say mass for the troops in the forward areas.  Arriving in India he served as a chaplain for the troops on the Ledo road from Ledo, India to Lashio, Burma.   Chaplain Kapaun became friends with the Catholic missionaries, priests and nuns from Italy, at Lashio.  Taking up a collection for the missions from American troops, who responded generously, Father Kapaun also prevailed upon American combat engineers to construct a building in Lashio to be used as a school and a church.  Here is a picture of Father Kapaun, viewer’s right, along with his trusty jeep, while he was in the C-B-I.

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Promoted to Captain, he remained in the C-B-I until May of 1946 and was mustered out of the Army in July 1946.  With the approval of his Bishop, Father Kapuan enrolled at Catholic University in Washington on the G.I. Bill, and obtained a Master’s degree in education in February 1948.  In April his Bishop appointed him pastor in Timken, Kansas in April 1948.  Believing that he was called to be a chaplain for the troops, and with the consent of his Bishop, Father Kapaun rejoined the army as a chaplain in September 1948.

Serving as a chaplain at Fort Bliss, Father Kapaun was ordered to Japan in 1950.  Upon the outbreak of the Korean War, he was assigned to a front line combat unit, the 3rd battalion, 8th cavalry regiment, 1rst Cavalry Division. Continue reading

POW Servant of God To Receive Medal of Honor

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On April 11, 2012 Father Emil Kapaun, the POW Servant of God, will receive posthumously this nation’s highest decoration for heroism, the Medal of Honor:

The Pentagon is expected to invite several of Kapaun’s fellow former prisoners of war to attend the ceremony. They survived horrific conditions in the prison camp after they were captured in the first battles against the Chinese Army in late 1950, shortly after China entered the Korean War.

All of these soldiers, now in their mid- or upper 80s, have lobbied for more than 60 years to persuade the Army to award Kapaun the Medal of Honor.

They also have lobbied the Roman Catholic Church to elevate him to sainthood. The Vatican recently completed an extensive investigation and is considering the matter.

Soldiers like Mike Dowe, William Funchess, Robert Wood, Robert McGreevy and Herb Miller, most of them Protestants, have spent decades writing letters or giving interviews describing repeated acts of bravery by Kapaun. They said he repeatedly ran through machine gun fire, dragging wounded soldiers to safety during the first months of the war.

They said his most courageous acts followed in a prisoner of war camp, where Kapaun died in May 1951. They said he saved hundreds of soldiers’ lives using faith and the skills honed on his family’s farm near Pilsen. Continue reading

Franciscan Love

 For love of Him they ought to expose themselves to enemies both visible and invisible.

Saint Francis of Assisi

 

Born in Louisville, Kentucky on July 17, 1913, Herman G. Felhoelter was ordained a Franciscan priest in 1939.  He served as an Army chaplain during War II and was awarded a Bronze Star.

Reenlisting in the Army after the war, on July 16th 1950 he was a Captain serving as a chaplain with the 19th Infantry in Korea.  The 19th was in a tough spot that day.  The North Koreans had established a road block in the rear of the regiment near the village of Tunam, South Korea.  The regiment was in retreat, moving through mountains, trying to get around the roadblock, and slowed by the numerous wounded being carried due to the heavy fighting with the North Koreans during the battle for Taegu.  It was obvious by 9:00 PM on the evening of July 16th that 30 of the most seriously wounded could go no farther due to their stretcher bearers being exhausted.  Father Felhoelter and the chief medical officer Captain Linton J. Buttrey volunteered to stay with the wounded while the rest of the men escaped.  Father  Felhoelter was under no illusions of what would happen to the wounded and to him after the advancing North Koreans captured them, and swiftly gave them the Last Rites while he tended to them. Continue reading

The Korean War-Not The Forgotten War

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June 25, 1950, the North Koreans, at the instigation of Stalin, invaded South Korea.  The US, under UN auspices, intervened under General Douglas MacArthur.  In a brilliant campaign, MacArthur led the American and allied forces to victory, largely destroying the North Korean Army and conquering most of North Korea.  Massive Chinese intervention led to a see-saw war up and down the Korean peninsula, with a stalemate ensuing from July 1951-July 1953.  Eisenhower got the North Koreans and their Chinese and Soviet backers to finally agree to a truce by threatening to use nuclear weapons in Korea.

Our POWs during the war were treated with the usual barbarity with which Communist regimes have treated prisoners of war.

One reason that the war dragged on is because many North Korean and Chinese prisoners of war did not want to be repatriated.  Harry Truman, to his everlasting credit, refused to send them back against their will:  “We will not buy an armistice by turning over human beings for slaughter or slavery“.  Eventually, in a stunning rebuke to Communism, some 46,000 North Korean and Chinese soldiers refused repatriation.  Conversely, only 22 Americans and 1 Brit refused repatriation, with almost all of them eventually returning after the war. Continue reading

POW Servant of God Easter Sermon

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On Easter Sunday 1942 Father Emil Kapaun, the POW Servant of God  I have written about here, here , here and  here delivered an Easter Sermon.  Go here to read it.

Nine years later, shortly before his death in a Chinese prisoner of war camp, he preached another Easter sermon.  Before a crude wooden cross  he gave an unforgettable sermon on the Passion of Our Lord and led the rosary using a barbed wire rosary he had made from the wire that ringed the camp.  Suffering from dysentery, pneumonia and an infection in one of his legs and in his eyes and so weak he could barely stand, he somehow found  the strength to help his men,  in the midst of their misery, to recognize the boundless joy of Easter.  In many ways the entire life of Father Kapaun was a joyful sermon on Easter.

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