POW, pirate, saint
The heroic story of Father Emil Kapaun held the crowd spellbound at Fort Sill's National Prayer Luncheon on Thursday.
Retired Col. Ray "Mike" Dowe Jr. graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., in June 1950 and went to Korea that August with the 24th Infantry Division. He was a fresh-faced lieutenant of 22 when he took over a platoon of the 19th Infantry Regiment on a hilltop and informed the troops he was happy to have them under his command. He was brought up short by the sergeant major's response:
"Yeah, lieutenant, we're glad to have you, too. We hope you last longer than the last two. They were killed the first week."
As Post Chaplain (Col.) Matthew Pawlikowski pointed out in his introduction of the speaker, Dowe has spent much of his life promoting awareness of a hero of his who was recently awarded the Medal of Honor for both his military achievements and what he did in a prison camp in North Korea. A member of the Catholic Church, Dowe is pursuing Chaplain Kapaun's canonization as a saint.
"Mr. Dowe is my hero because he always puts others first," Pawlikowski said.
Dowe called it a privilege to tell his audience about the greatest man he's ever known.
"As much as anybody, he's responsible for myself being here today, and literally for hundreds if not over a thousand folks who survived that first winter of the Korean War. That's the winter of '50-'51," Dowe said.
It was one of the worst winters Korea has ever had, with temperatures ranging from 20 to 40 degrees below zero.
"When you're in summer uniforms, that's not very pleasant," he said. "We'd won the war. We'd defeated the North Korean army, we were on the Yalu River. Each of the companies in our battalion had sent somebody back to Japan to prepare the victory parades that were going to take place that Thanksgiving. Didn't quite happen."