A letter to Bishop Mark Carroll of Wichita

Kyoto, Japan               February 28, 1951

Your Excellency,

 

Father Kapaun and I landed at Po Hong Dong with the 1st Cavalry Division on the morning of July 18, 1950.

 

On the hot days of July and August by the bank of the Naktong River, a G.I. coule come almost any day and find a simplified, home-made altar on the hood of a jeep. There was Father Kapaun saying Mass in the extreme heat almost ready to pass out from the heavy warm garments being worn.

 

He also climbed many a hill and mountain just so he could make some lonely G.I. feel a little better after talking to him.

 

About 35 miles south of the Manchurian border on the 1st day of November, near Unsan, Korea, we were all feeling in deep sorrow at the close of Father’s Mass. We were completely surrounded and everyone knew it. Thinking of our loved ones back home, of ourselves. Would we live to see another daylight again? No one knew, but everyone prayed, and prayed hard, hoping that God would help us out. Little by little the enemy was closing in on us.  We had to do something, but what?  If we could hold out till morning we could get some reinforcements. We couldn’t possibly hold out that long. There were too many of them. Col. Walton, our Battalion Commander, finally gave us the order to withdraw.

 

By 11:00 P.M. that night we were surrounded three times, and had broken through each time. All the while this was going on we became very disorganized. I ran into Father Kapaun as we were withdrawing. About a mile or two down the road Father and I were helping out the Medics with the wounded.  All of a sudden machine-guns, burp guns, and what not, opened up on us. There we were, in the middle of an ambush. That, Sir, was just the beginning of a horrible nightmare. But that is where I also lost contact with Father Kapaun. That night there were 995 dead, missing or wounded ion our 8th Cavalry Regiment alone. Newsweek Magazine came out with an article about what happened that night. The article was entitled “The Halloween Party,” but the battle is well known as ‘Bugle Valley’ to the men who made it out alive.

 

Later on, I tried to locate Father Kapaun. This is what I gathered.

 

Lt. Curry, a medical officer, and a good friend of Father Kapaun, was last seen giving first aid to some wounded men. By his side was Father. One G. I. told them to run, practically screaming at them, but they wouldn’t leave the wounded for anything in the world.

 

I have prayed many times for the safe return of Father Kapaun. The first Mass said at our Battalion by Father Lynch was offered for Father Kapaun, who is still listed as missing in action.

 

I’m sure there are hundreds of G.I.s who will never forget what Father Kapaun has done for them. In their hearts they will always remember how he kept up the G.I.s morale, and most of all how he helped a lot of men to become good Catholics.

 

I’ll never forget him as long as I live.

 

Just another G.I., Respectfully,

 

Pfc Ernest J. Ritter

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