Dear People and Friends of the Diocese of New Jersey,
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4
Ascension Day has passed and we have come to Memorial Day weekend. The resurrected Christ has ascended to heaven, but, as the collect for Ascension Day clearly reminds us, “according to his promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages.” (BCP p. 226). I can’t help thinking about the faith that drove so many of the faithful when their “day of decision” came and they paid the highest price a human being can for “the liberties we now enjoy” (see Collect for Heroic Service—BCP p. 839).
This past week, in my personal devotions, I was reminded of the story of Chaplain Emil Kapaun, who died in Korea in a prisoner of war camp on May 23, 1951. According to Wikipedia, Kapaun was the son of Czech immigrants and grew up on a farm in Kansas. After he graduated from high school, he attended seminary in Missouri and was ordained a priest in the Catholic Church in June 1940. In 1943, he was appointed an auxiliary chaplain at Herrington Army Airfield in Kansas and in 1944 attended the U.S. Army Chaplain School at Ft. Devens, Massachusetts.
Wikipedia reports Kapaun served in the Burma Theater from April 1945 to May 1946. He was promoted to Captain and released from active duty in July 1946 but returned to active duty on September of 1948 serving at Fort Bliss near El Paso, Texas. He deployed to Japan in 1949.
On July 15, 1950, serving with the 1st Calvary Division, Kapaun was part of the first amphibious landing of the Korean War. According to Wikipedia:
The Division engaged in several skirmishes with the Korean People’s Army but had to retreat each time. Kapaun and his assistant learned of a wounded soldier stranded by enemy machine gun and small arms fire during one of these retreats. Knowing that no litter bearers were available, the two braved enemy fire and saved the man’s life, for which Kapaun was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with a “V” device for valor.
In November 1950, at the Battle of Unsan, Kapaun’s unit was attacked by more than 20,000 soldiers of the Chinese Peoples Volunteer Army (PVA). Although he was urged to evacuate, he remained. Wikipedia reports, “During the battle, he braved enemy fire and rescued nearly 40 men, for which he was later awarded the Medal of Honor [posthumously]. The Chinese continued to overwhelm the American troops. He and other members of the 3rd Battalion taken prisoner, were marched 87 miles (140 km) to a temporary prison camp at Sombakol near the permanent camp (Prison Camp 5) at Pyoktong, North Korea, where they were later held.
In his book Blessed Among Us: Day by Day with Saintly Witnesses, Robert Ellsberg picks up the story:
“In the camp the prisoners endured freezing cold, subsisting on starvation rations. Kapaun devoted himself to raising morale. He was also adept at scrounging or stealing contraband—serving up hot water with a few beans or grains of millet, likely saved from his rations and calling out, ‘Hot coffee!’ Much of his time was spend ministering to the sick and dying.”
“Eventually Chaplain Kapaun, skeletally thin, his feet frozen, suffering from dysentery and pneumonia, was among them. Sometime in Maya 1951 the guards carried him to an empty shelter called ‘the hospital,’ where he died on May 23.”
“In 1993 his cause for canonization was accepted by the Vatican. In 2013 Kapaun, already the most decorated chaplain in U.S. history, received the Medal of Honor.”
Last week, I had the honor of attending and serving as a co-Consecrator at the Consecration and Ordination of Brian Burgess as the 12th Bishop of Springfield (Illinois). It was a joy to be with Brian, his lovely wife Denise, their family, and also a very solid contingent from Christ Church, Woodbury where Fr. Burgess had served faithfully as rector for many years. It was a glorious event.
I arrived in Springfield on Thursday night which gave me time on Friday to explore. Springfield is best known as the home of Abraham Lincoln so I took advantage of visiting the historic Lincoln sites including the Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library as well as the historic Lincoln home. As a piece of trivia, Lincoln had purchased this home from a local Episcopal priest who had also performed the marriage between Lincoln and Mary Todd.
During my visit to these sites, I saw several representations of Lincoln’s most famous speech, The Gettysburg Address, written quickly and delivered to consecrate the battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, as a cemetery. As we approach this Memorial Day weekend, living in a nation that is once again deeply divided—a nation in which a serious and significant assault has been launched against democracy—I can’t help feeling Lincoln’s solemn words are especially relevant for us:
It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
This Memorial Day, I invite us all to remember those who like Chaplain Emil Kapaun gave the last full measure for this nation and the liberties we enjoy, to honor them with solemn prayer and thanksgiving, and to recommit ourselves to the principles of democracy, true democracy, and to the common good for all people. A common good for which our nation should always stand.
God bless you and keep you.
The Right Rev. William H. Stokes
Bishop of New Jersey
 art. cit.
 Ellsberg, Robert Blessed Among Us: Day by Day with Saintly Witnesses (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2016) see entry for May 23 – “Servant of God Emil Kapaun”
 Lincoln, Abraham :The Gettysburg Address” – See Lincoln On-Line at https://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/gettysburg.htm