We asked six of Father Kapaun’s fellow prisoners of war what they would say to Pope Francis about Kapaun’s proposed sainthood if they were in Rome this week.
This is what they said:
▪ Lt. Robert Wood
Wood, 88, helped carry Father Kapaun to the “death house” in the North Korean POW camp where he died.
“He did everything in my mind that Jesus Christ would have done: He washed the hands and faces of the wounded, carried the dying. He was totally a man of self-sacrifice and devotion.
“At the same time he tried to keep alive our spirits with his encouragement, his words, his prayers and most of all, his example. Every time I saw him in that camp he was doing yet another act of kindness. He carried us through a terrible time where 40 percent of us died.
“I helped carry him to the place where he died, a building, where they had a pit dug in the back to throw the bodies. He knew he was going to his own death. We hadn’t shaved or cut our hair or bathed or taken our clothes off in months, and we all looked like ragged beggars, the four of us carrying Father Kapaun on a sheet up the hill to that place.
“And he raises his hand and blesses the Chinese soldiers and says, ‘Bless them, oh Lord, for they know not what they do.’ I got tears in my eyes, and I thought, ‘My God, this is Jesus Christ on the cross again.’ ”
▪ Lt. Mike Dowe
Dowe, 88, helped Kapaun steal food and tried to fight Chinese guards wanting to take Kapaun to his death.
“God is love. Father Kapaun was close to being pure love as you could get.
“He gave himself up in combat, always went right to wherever the firefights were. As a POW he would break out of the limited security we had in our officers compound and go past the guards to get to the enlisted men. He gave them hope, prayed with them and re-engendered their faith and their loyalty to country. …
“We were starving and freezing to death. That first North Korean winter, half the guys died, more than 1,000 of us, and the 1,000 who made it, a lot of us owed that to him. He showed us how to fight, how to keep alive the will to resist. Above all, he gave us the ability to believe in ourselves.
“And in the end he was murdered. The Chinese couldn’t stand for someone who stood so strong for his God.”
▪ 2nd Lt. Paul Roach
Roach, 88, lived in the officers compound with Kapaun in the North Korean prisoner of war camp.
“He saved my life just by the work he did over there, helping everybody. God gave him the energy to do it because none of the rest of us had the energy. I was weak (from starvation) and couldn’t hardly move, but he gave me faith and inspired me to live. …
“What I most remember is the Easter Sunday service he conducted in the old bombed-out church. I was surprised they (the guards) let him do it, and what I most remember is the singing. He got us to sing.”
▪ Lt. William Funchess
Funchess, 87, slept beside Kapaun and tended to him as his health deteriorated from starvation.
“He attended to the wounds of his fellow soldiers, although he had no medical supplies. He picked lice off the bodies of those unable to do so themselves. He cleaned their clothes. He melted snow over a small fire and gave me the first drink of water I had three months after my capture.
“Although forbidden by our captors, Father Kapaun held religious services for Catholics and non-Catholics. Those services boosted the morale of all of us POWs and gave us hope where there had been none before.
“We slept beside each other on the floor of a mud shack. Father Kapaun assured me that my bullet-shattered foot would heal, and I would walk again. His words of encouragement gave me the inspiration to eventually begin walking without the use of a stick.
“Father Kapaun prayed with each man who came to our mud shack to speak with him. I noticed that all those men left with an inner peace within themselves.
“He was the greatest man I’ve ever known.”
▪ Sgt. Herbert Miller
Kapaun interrupted Miller’s battlefield execution at the battle of Unsan by shoving aside a Chinese soldier about to shoot him. Miller, also a veteran of World War II, is 89.
“The soldier put that gun right between my eyes, and I figured this is it.
“But across the road, about 75 feet, the battalion headquarters had a dugout with sandbags blocking the entrance, and the only way to get out was from holes in the side. Father Kapaun was in there with a bunch of wounded men. When he come out of there he couldn’t see me because I was in that ditch, two feet below the road. But the Lord must have spoke to him to come out of there. And when he did, he came right to me. How else would he know I was there?
“He pushed that guy aside, picked me up and carried me away. That was a miracle. And then the second miracle – that soldier didn’t shoot us. If that’s not a miracle then I don’t know what is.”
▪ Cpl. Robert McGreevy
McGreevy, 84, heard Kapaun refuse to leave the battlefield during the disastrous battle of Unsan.
“They ordered him to get out of there, but he yelled back, ‘My place is with the wounded.’
“He’d just given a bunch of us the last rites. He said, ‘A lot of you guys aren’t going to make it out of here.’ He was right about that.
“I ran into him in the mountains again, while we were being marched away, and Father had all these sick people with him and guys were refusing to carry the wounded. He shamed them into doing it, picked up litters himself and carried them and got those other guys to wise up. He saved so many lives just being who he was.”
“I don’t understand why it’s taking them so long to make him a saint. If they don’t make him a saint there’s something wrong with the Catholic Church. He’s already a saint in my eyes.
“He saved me again two months ago. I quit going to Mass years ago because I was mad about all those priests getting in trouble, hurting little kids. But I prayed to Father every day, for years, and one day two months ago he got me going to Mass again. I go to Mass every day now. So that’s twice now he’s saved me.”