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The story behind the photo

  • Published Sunday, Dec. 6, 2009, at 12:08 a.m.
  • Updated Sunday, Dec. 6, 2009, at 7:30 a.m.

Raymond Skeehan shot an iconic photo of Father Emil Kapaun one day during the Korean War.

In it, Kapaun is celebrating Mass in an open field in South Korea, using the hood of an Army jeep as his altar.

Kapaun might someday be canonized as a saint. So owning that photo could mean earning money.

But Skeehan says anyone who wants to reprint that photo is welcome to it. He gave a new print to The Eagle for this series.

“I just think that photo should be my contribution to the memory of Father Kapaun,” he said Friday.

Skeehan lives in Englewood, Colo., now. He was the surgeon of the 2nd Battalion of the 8th Cavalry Regiment; Kapaun was the regiment’s Catholic chaplain. Both men gave aid to wounded men on several battlefields.

Skeehan was also a part-time photographer, which was why he was there in a field full of pup tents on Oct. 7, 1950, when Kapaun showed up to say a Sunday Mass.

The 8th Cavalry was encamped just south of the 38th Parallel, resting and training to head deep into North Korea. Less than a month later, it would be battered by Chinese troops near Unsan, where Kapaun was captured.

But Oct. 7 was a peaceful day; Kapaun showed up with his aide, Patrick Schuler, the soldier kneeling in the photo. Skeehan does not know what became of Schuler.

Skeehan didn’t think there was anything special about the photo when he shot it.

He knows better now.

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