Soldiering for God

© Didde Publishing Co.

Would there were space for all the correspondence Father Kapaun sent and received during his military service! It is inspiring. Two striking facts stand out. Father was regular in sending to his bishop a copy of his monthly report together with a letter. Both Bishop Winkelmann and Bishop Carroll answered every single letter and report which Father sent in.

From Chaplains’ School, Fort Devens, Mass., Father wrote, Sept. 2, 1944:

“Most Reverend and dear Bishop,

“I wish to express my sincerest thanks for the Mass Kit forwarded to me through the Chaplain Aid Association as a donation from you and the ‘Faithful of the Diocese of Wichita.’

“There are nearly 40 Catholic priests in a class of 145. Holy Mass is my greatest consolation. We priests offer Mass together in a special building. We have rosary in common in the morning. We must find time to say our office privately.

“I am very happy. Classes are interesting and practical. And might I add that the drills and marches give a person a tremendous appetite.

“In appreciation to Chaplains’ Aid, I am sending them a check of $150. Without help, the Association would not be able to do its wonderful work.

“Again I thank you for your kindness, and I hope to pay you a visit after graduation.”

Here is part of Bishop Winkelmann’s reply:

“I am sure that the Chaplains’ Aid was surprised when you, in turn, sent them a munificent donation of $150 to promote their work. This gesture on your part reveals your noble character and disposition. I am sure that God will abundantly bless you and that your work will be most successful, no matter where your assignment.”

Fort Devens, Mass.

Sept. 8, 1944

“Dear Dad and Mother:

“I have a few minutes to spare but next week I will not have any time. So I want to wish you, Dad, a Happy Birthday. Maybe you feel a little lonesome since our family is spread far and wide, yet I bet you feel very glad to know that really we are all very close together, much closer than many people who are living together in the same house. For that we can be thankful to God, and I hope He blesses you and keeps you cheerful as you have been in the past.

“Army life does a person a lot of good. When I took my physical exam, I was one pound overweight for a perfect score. Now my good record is all broken to pieces. I am five pounds overweight. My feet are toughened to stand a 30-mile march. We get in at least 15 or more miles a day. In the evening I feel as fresh as a young calf. Cannot figure it out. A mile walk is like a short stroll.

“German prisoners are cooking for us and they really put out good meals. The water here is slightly chemicalized. It tastes awful, but I solved that problem. I light a cigar and take a smoke so I cannot taste anything. In the army we have to figure out all kinds of things.

“You will not get any letters from me for a while. Maybe a card or two. I am sending you a present in part appreciation of what you have done for me. I got a check today for $250. The check is a birthday present to you, Dad.”

On Sept. 10, he wrote to Gerald Franta:

“Here at Chaplains’ School I am like a bug in a rug. We are strapped down to a rigorous routine of classes and we drill like master troopers. Soon we will be crawling through the infiltration course, under machine gun fire, etc. We have a few fat fellows here and I don’t see how they will squeeze under the bullets. They are fairly worried.”

On Oct. 4, 1944, he graduated from Chaplain’s School and was assigned to Camp Wheeler, Georgia. He wrote to his Bishop:

“The chaplain situation is critical. We have some 19,000 soldiers not counting the families of the officers, the WACs, and the civilian personnel. And for that bunch we have only two Catholic chaplains. Last Sunday I said Mass in the theatre on the stage at 8:30 and 9:30. The chapels are too small to hold the crowds. At 11:30 I went out to the bivouac area, took the Blessed Sacrament with me, heard confessions, and distributed Holy Communion to men who had been fasting from midnight to 12:30. We recited the rosary together. I read the Gospel and gave a short exhortation. How I wished I could have said Mass for them, but I had already said three Masses.

“I have a lot of things to learn about army life. But with the strain of it all comes the consolation of doing some little good for men who are willing and worthy.”

The Chaplain’s Corner of the newspaper “SPOKE,” published for the officers and enlisted men of Camp Wheeler, issue of Jan. 25, 1945, carried a sermon by Chaplain Kapaun titled, “The Chaplain and Personal Opinion”

“A chaplain in the U.S. Army does many things in his line of duty. He gives his time, his strength, his patience, to encourage soldiers to fulfill their duties to Almighty God. He provides the means and the opportunity for men to worship God. In this, he stands for what is most sacred and most necessary.

“However, in this duty, the chaplain often finds hindrances and enemies which ruin his work. One of these enemies is personal opinion.

“How much harm personal opinion has done is difficult to judge. A soldier, after hearing a zealous talk concerning the holiness of God’s name, walks back to his barracks and says: ‘That was a good sermon, but I do not agree with what was said. I have my own opinion. I feel free to use it the way I want to.’ As far as that soldier is concerned, the chaplain and his sacred work are worth nothing.

“At another time, the chaplain gives a stirring instruction on the Sixth Commandment which is: ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery.’ He tells in pointed language that any sin of impurity and indecency is a terrible offense in the sight of God. A soldier remarks: ‘I don’t think it is that way at all. Why, my idea about it is this: I live only once. So why not get every pleasure out of life?’ That soldier has his own personal opinion, and he dares to commit sins of impurity. To him the chaplain and the chaplain’s work are worth nothing.

“If personal opinion is to guide our lives, then we might as well throw away all laws, even the laws of God, and proceed to live our lives by personal opinion. There is, however, one serious drawback to this procedure: We have a Master who is checking up on us. And this Master is most strict and exact. He is the one whom the chaplain is trying to represent to the soldiers and officers. That Master is God.”

With typical thoughtfulness he wrote a letter of condolence upon learning of the death of Mrs. Henry Jirak of Pilsen:

“Dear Mr. Jirak and Children:

“With these few lines I wish to express to you my sympathy and sorrow on reading that death has struck in your family. I wish to mention that I have remembered her in Holy Mass today and will continue to pray that God will grant her that happy home in heaven which is in store for those as faithful as she was.

“It is a wonderful thought to know that in the ‘Communion of Saints’ we are in touch with the Saints in heaven and the souls in Purgatory, and to know that our loved ones are in that Communion of Saints.

“May God’s blessing be upon you.

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