The Tiny Little Kansas Town of Pilsen
June 15, 2013
The tiny little Kansas town of Pilsen, which never numbered more than 100 citizens, is planning a huge celebration honoring one of their own on June 2, 2013. They expect thousands of people to crowd their town and fill the local church to capacity and beyond. This town is filled with pride at the long delayed honor awarded to the descendant of one of the town’s founding families.
Let me begin by saying that my interest in this event is related to my husband’s family, who were among the early Bohemian founders of Pilsen in 1874. The area was settled by 46 Bohemian Catholic families. The town was named to honor the city of Plzeň of Bohemia. My father-in-law, Albert William, Sr. (born 1916), grew up in Pilsen as part of a large family. He told stories of his childhood about working hard on the farm, tending animals, maintaining machinery, and working in the fields. For fun, he enjoyed riding his bike with his friend Emil. Their lives were faith-filled as the parish church, St. John Nepomucene, was a vital part of everyone’s life.
Emil felt called to the priesthood and was ordained in 1940; he celebrated his first Mass at the church he had always loved. After serving in various parishes, Fr. Emil Kapaun joined the Army. He served as an Army Chaplain during World War II, returned to civilian life, but then re-enlisted in 1949. He was sent to Korea to minister to those on the front line and quickly became known for his bravery. The chaplain "calmly walked through withering enemy fire and hand-to-hand combat to provide medical aid, comforting words or the last rites of the Catholic Church to the wounded." When he saw a Chinese soldier about to execute a wounded comrade, he rushed to push the gun away. Father Kapaun helped soldiers who faltered on a forced march to a prisoner-of-war camp, where the Chinese sent them after the attack.
Through the winter, as the American prisoners froze to death, he offered his clothes, sneaked out to bring back grain, and cleaned the soldiers’ wounds. One of the veterans who served with him stated that the chaplain "kept a lot of us alive." In May 1951, as guards sent him into isolation without food or water to die, the priest looked at the guards and said, "Forgive them, for they know not what they do."
The following quote is from a citation for the Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest military honor, awarded to Army Captain Chaplain Emil Joseph Kapaun of Pilsen, Kansas:
"This is the valor we honor today," President Obama said: "An American soldier who didn’t fire a gun, but who wielded the mightiest weapon of all, a love for his brothers so pure that he was willing to die so that they might live."
The Medal of Honor was presented to the town of Pilsen on June 2, 2013 by Fr. Kapaun’s nephew for permanent display in St. John Nepomucene Church.
Midwest Genealogy Center