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Learning from Chaplain Kapaun

About 70 years ago (25 June 1950) the conflict in Korea began as North Korean forces invaded the south. One of the first American units to arrive in Korea was the 8th Cavalry, and one of their chaplains was Emil Kapaun. Here’s a little bit of his story and an encouragement to follow his example.

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Chaplain, we are glad you are here

“With the Red army broken, there was another trick left in MacArthur’s game–use of airborne troops. When they dropped Oct. 20 [1950], LIFE photographer Sochurek jumped with them.” One of the men he jumped with was Chaplain James A. Skelton who had quite a story to tell.

“…The jump was a day late for one of its important objectives–to rescue American prisoners. I met Chaplain James A. Skelton of Hannibal, Mo. after he had returned from burying 75 American prisoners. He told me how, on the night of Oct. 20, only hours after the airborne troops had jumped, the prisoners had been herded from their prison train in groups of 15, then under the pretext of being fed were led to separate areas, blindfolded and shot.

“Of the 75 the chaplain was able to identify only 29, and even that was difficult, for the clothing of many of the boys contained as many as three dog tags on a single person. He told of the 20 men who had escaped this murder train, how they were hardly able to stand, of a small, rock-hard cracker that had been their only ration for weeks, of their bushmanlike appearance. One of the men who survived, upon seeing Chaplain Skelton, said,

Chaplain, we are glad you are here. Let’s have a prayer.

“With the chaplain were two men. They carried the paper-wrapped personal effects of the 75 murdered Americans, which neatly filled two GI helmets.”

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Quoted text and photo from “Camera Records A Combat Jump,” by Howard Sochurek. LIFE, 6 November 1950, 36-38 (author’s collection).

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