Radio Show

John Stansifer on the Life, Military Service and Sacrifice of Father Emil Kapaun

Father Dave welcomes author John Stansifer to the show to talk about Father Emil Kapaun, the most decorated chaplain in U.S. military history. John has written over 20 screenplays, specializing in biopics and historical true stories. He spent six years in the Kansas Army National Guard as a mortar gunner and served alongside Vietnam War veterans, whose stories further developed his interest in military history. His latest book is called “No Bullet Got Me Yet: The Relentless Faith of Father Kapaun.” 

“No Bullet Got Me Yet” is a collection of letters written by, to and about Emil Kapaun, a Catholic priest and army chaplain in the Korean War. Archived by the Father Kapaun Guild, the letters comprise the record of Kapaun’s heroism in the 1st Cavalry Division in Korea in the summer of 1950, and the sacrificial service he provided fellow POWs after he was captured by Chinese troops in November. He died at POW Camp in 1951 and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama in 2013.

RELATED: Spirituality and the Soldier

Father Kapaun, John explains, had been a priest for about a year when Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941, and joined the Chaplains Corp in the aftermath. He served as an auxiliary chaplain at a military airbase in the United States for two years, and after D-Day, June 6, 1944, decided he wanted to serve overseas alongside American soldiers. He was sent to the China-Burma-India Theater of the war in 1945. 

Father Dave asks, “What do you think, having investigated his life, was so compelling for him about serving in the military as a chaplain? Why was he so attracted to that?”

“He felt like he needed to protect his boys in a spiritual way,” John responds. “And he was aware of martyrs and protomartyrs, and he had been training for the Church since age 7, so it was obvious where his life was going to lead.”

After World War II, Father Kapaun obtained a master’s degree in education at Catholic University before rejoining the military as a chaplain in 1948. He was eventually sent to Korea in 1950. “It was the rise of communism that spurred him on,” John says, “He thought the Nazis were nothing. He thought that communism was going to be the bigger threat. Turns out he was correct.”

RELATED: Learning About Grace and Thanksgiving From a Veteran

John goes on to discuss Father Kapaun’s capture, heroics, and time in a Chinese POW camp in the winter of 1951 before his death. “The survivors that knew him,” Father Dave comments, “describe him as a joyful, faithful presence during those dark times.”  

“He never stopped.” John says. “He got up before dawn and scrounged for food — never for himself, it was only to share with other people.  He constantly offered prayers, helped other POWs with their wounds and sickness. He was tireless with it.”

Father Dave asks John about the title of the book, “No Bullet Got Me Yet.” 

“Father Kapaun was a frequent letter writer,” John says, “and in one of his last letters Father Kapaun actually wrote- ‘No bullet got me yet, although machine gunners sprayed us with bullets, but the prayers of our loved ones helped us escape.’ When I heard that phrase, ‘no bullet got me yet,’ I knew that was the title of the book — that represents to me a philosophy that you keep the faith until your enemy kills you, and you keep going until you achieve your goal.”