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Father Emil Kapaun’s Acts of Self-Sacrifice

Father Emil Kapaun is the most decorated military chaplain in US history, having received over a dozen military honors, including a 2013 Congressional Medal of Honor, a Purple Heart, and a Bronze Star. The Catholic priest was born in 1916 in rural Pilsen, Kansas to farmers Enos and Elizabeth Kapaun. Members of his family were extremely-devout Roman Catholics, and his religious upbringing led him to be ordained a priest in June 1940 for the Diocese of Wichita. He entered the Army Chaplain Corps in 1944, causing him to be deployed to the India-Burma Theater of World War II. After Father Kapaun returned home in 1946, the bishop of the Diocese of Wichita sent him to the Catholic University of America to obtain a Master’s degree in Education. After graduating in 1948, he re-enlisted in the Chaplain program. The chaplain was one of the first men deployed to Korea once the North Koreans invaded South Korea along their shared border in the summer of 1950. Assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division of the U.S. Army, he ministered to soldiers of all races and creeds throughout Korean War battles, and later, during his time in a prisoner-of-war camp. Father Kapaun died at the camp in 1951.

In this lesson, students will learn about the acts of self-sacrifice carried out by Father Emil Kapaun during the Korean War. They will analyze the impact these actions had on his men and understand how they can emulate these actions in their own lives in order to treat their fellow humans with more respect.

Objectives :

  • Students will analyze the self-sacrifice shown in the behaviors and actions of Kapaun.
  • Students will understand how this helps to advance a better respect for humankind, and thus a better society.
  • Students will apply their knowledge so that they can make their community a better place.

Resources :

Compelling Question :

  • How does self-sacrifice build up the community around us?

Virtue Defined :

  • Self-sacrifice is putting others before self. Courage is doing what is right, even if it means risking one’s life.


Have the students read the narrative. As they read, have them consider the following questions.

Walk-In-His-Shoes Questions:

As you read, imagine you are Father Kapaun.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns do you have?
  • What obstacles prevent you from acting as you should?

Observation Questions :

  • Who was Father Emil Kapaun?
  • Why were the Americans in Korea?
  • What was Kapaun’s role in the military?

Discussion Questions :

Discuss the following questions with your students. Have them consult the additional resources, if necessary.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical events presented a challenge to Father Kapaun?
  • How and why did Father Kapaun exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenges of the Korean War?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might the exercise of the virtue benefit Father Kapaun?
  • How might the exercise of the virtue hinder Father Kapaun?
  • How would you react if you were faced with challenges similar to those faced by Father Kapaun? Why?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What struggles must you face?
  • What do you find most intriguing about the life of Father Kapaun?

Vocabulary :

  • Bronze Star
  • Congressional Medal of Honor
  • Chaplain
  • Diocese of Wichita
  • First Cavalry Division
  • Korea
  • Korean War
  • Purple Heart
  • Pusan Perimeter

Additional Resources