Monday, April 15, 2013

Book Review -- The Miracle of Father Kapaun: Priest, Soldier, and Korean War Hero

By Roy Wenzel and Travis Heying, released March 28, 2013, Ignatius Press, 160 pages. Hardcover or Kindle. Available from Ignatius Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, major book stores and Catholic book stores.

Reviewed by Jean M. Heimann, M.A. in Theology, freelance writer, retired psychologist, and oblate with the Community of St. John.

As a Catholic Kansan, I am very familiar with Venerable Fr. Emil Kapaun.  I have viewed Fr. Emil Kapaun’s documentary film, visited his parish church and museum, heard homilies centered on his virtues, and have read both newspaper and online accounts of his life.  Prior to reading The Miracle of Father Kapaun: Priest, Soldier, and Korean War Hero, I was not sure what else I could learn about the man whom I ask to intercede for me and my family daily.

I knew that Fr. Kapaun was a military chaplain and a war hero who had recently been awarded the Medal of Honor for bravery during the Korean War. I also knew that he had been a prisoner of war and had helped his fellow prisoners, using the practical skills he acquired growing up on a farm in Pilsen, Kansas to sustain them during this difficult time. What I did not know about Fr. Kapaun were the intimate details of his life, as described by those closest to him. Nor was I aware of the specifics of the alleged miracles that have transpired in the lives of Kansas residents today.  Finally, I was unaware of the fact that the Korean War veterans, who served with him, and whose lives were saved by him, had lobbied the Army for more than 60 years to award Kapaun for his acts of bravery.  Authors Roy Wenzl and Travis Heying share all of this and more in their new book, The Miracle of Father Kapaun.

Wenzel and Heying have done a thorough job of researching Fr. Kapaun’s life, interviewing dozens of men who survived the POW camp because of the courageous acts of this young priest.  The POWs share how Kapaun saved hundreds of lives by: repeatedly running through machine gun fire, dragging wounded soldiers to safety, stealing food from his captors to sustain his starving comrades, and shaping roofing tin into cooking pots to boil water, to prevent dysentery. Most of all, when their future appeared hopeless, he gave them hope and a reason to live.  Fr. Kapaun’s companions portray him as a man who stepped out in faith, performing many astonishing acts of heroism, confounding his captors.

Wenzl and Heying are gifted writers who tell a gripping tale that grabbed my attention at the beginning of the book and held it to the end. This story often kept me on the edge of my seat. The book begins with the battle of Unsan (There is a map included to show where it is located). I knew nothing about this battle prior to reading this chapter, but the authors write with such clarity, ease, and realism, that I felt as if I were right there on the battlefield with the soldiers. Their clear and concise writing style as well as Kapaun’s intriguing story of both yesterday and today will motivate you to read this book immediately in one sitting, which is possible to do, as it is short. However, you may want to re-read and savor certain sections of the book. At least that is what I did – simply because they contain brilliant quotes from Fr. Kapaun and stunning samples of his writing.

Because Fr. Kapaun has not yet been canonized and the alleged miracles are just that until they have been approved by the Church, the authors present a very factual, historical account of Kapaun’s life.  However, this does not at all detract from the story, but made it all the more interesting for me. What was particularly appealing to me is the fact that the authors present Fr. Kapaun as a very human individual, sharing his foibles and faults, rather than falsely depicting him as a plaster-perfect saint with whom no one can identify or emulate. I also enjoyed the humorous anecdotes that are shared by friends and neighbors that make Fr. Kapaun so genuine and so likeable.

In summary, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this inspirational and gripping account of Venerable Fr. Emil Kapaun, Catholic priest, Korean War hero, and recipient of the nation’s highest award for bravery. He was a man of few words, but much action. Fr. Kapaun is someone we all can model ourselves after through our loving service to those in our everyday lives. The Miracle of Father Kapaun is an excellent book that I highly recommend for both Catholics and non-Catholics alike. It would be especially useful in: diocesan, parish, high school/ college, seminarian, and home libraries, teen and adult discussion groups, and adult faith formation groups.

© Jean M. Heimann April 2013.

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