Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

Service and Sacrifice in Korea: Chaplain Emil J. Kapaun
Crista Burnett
US History
Time Frame:
one class period (60 min)
Korean War

Grade Levels:

Classroom/Homework Activity to be performed:

This lesson is both an individual and cooperative learning activity that will use timelines, and primary sources to increase knowledge and understanding of the Korean War.


This lesson is designed to give students a greater understanding of the Korean War through examining the experiences of a military chaplain, Capt. Emil J. Kapaun who was captured and later died from dysentery while being held as a POW.  The Korean War is humanized by critically thinking about the Kapaun documents

District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met:

Kansas  US History  Benchmark 3: The student uses a working knowledge and understanding of individuals, groups, ideas, developments, and turning points in the era of the Cold War (1945-1990).

      Indicator  2:  The student evaluates the foreign policies of Truman and Eisenhower during the  

      Cold War (e.g., establishment of the United Nations, containment, NATO, Truman Doctrine, Berlin

      Blockade, Korean War, Iron Curtain, U-2 incident).

Kansas US History Benchmark 5: The student engages in historical thinking skills.

           Indicator 3: The student uses primary and secondary sources about an event in US History to 

           develop a credible interpretation of the event, evaluating on its meaning (e.g., uses provided   

           primary and secondary sources to interpret a historical-based conclusion).


2. continuity and change in the history of Missouri, the United States and the world

6. relationships of the individual and groups to institutions and cultural traditions

7. the use of tools of social science inquiry (such as surveys, statistics, maps, documents)

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:

Article: Widener, Robert. “Courage Beyond Belief.”   VFW.  June/July 2010. http://digitaledition.qwinc.com/publication/?i=37952

“Father Kapaun Timeline” The Wichita Eagle:  http://www.kansas.com/2009/12/03/1081989/father-kapaun-timeline.html

“Korean War Timeline” The Wichita Eagle: http://www.kansas.com/2009/12/03/1081944/timeline-of-the-korean-war.html

Document Analysis worksheet:  http://www.trumanlibrary.org/educ/docanal2.pdf

Primary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:

“Father Kapaun letters” The Wichita Eagle:

 Aug.  18, 1950  Kapaun’s Letter Home http://media.kansas.com/smedia/2009/12/03/10/letter_home_1950.source.prod_affiliate.80.pdf

Oct 13, 1950 Last known letter written by Kapaun http://media.kansas.com/smedia/2009/12/03/10/Kapaun_last_letter.source.prod_affiliate.80.pdf

 Aug. 24, 1951 Letter of Kapaun’s Capture


Jan.4, 1954 Death notification


May 18, 1954 Letter written by Eugene D. Shaw, a fellow POW to Kapaun’s parents http://media.kansas.com/smedia/2009/12/03/10/Shaw_letter.source.prod_affiliate.80.pdf

Jan. 4, 1955 Follow-up on Kapaun’s death, Dept. of Defense


Full description of activity or assignment.
  1. Provide the students background on the Korean War.

Introduce the subject of the activity, Chaplain Emil J. Kapaun, by reading p.31 of the article “Courage Beyond Belief” VFW.  June/July 2010. http://digitaledition.qwinc.com/publication/?i=37952

  1. To help place Chaplain Kapaun in the context of the Korean War, provide each student a copy of the Father Kapaun Timeline and the Korean War Timeline.   After giving the students a few minutes to read through the timelines pass out the timeline question sheet (see attached)   Give the students 10 minutes to complete the questions.  Collect and discuss.
  2. Divide the students into small groups (3-6 students).  Place a folder with the six primary documents related to father Kapaun listed above (see attached).   Ask the students, working as a group, to complete one document analysis sheet for each document in the folder (6 total). Each student should take notes on all six documents which will be used to complete the Wrap-up essay. Collect document sheets and discuss.
  3. Wrap up.  Assign the students the following essay for homework:

Using what you have learned from examining the Kapaun documents, answer the following questions:

What were some of the primary duties of a military chaplain?  How close to the fighting did Kapaun get?  How do you know?  What were the conditions that he endured?  What do you think was the toughest part of his job?  What does the Shaw letter reveal about the impact Kapaun’s death had on his fellow POW’s?

Full explanation of the assessment method and/or scoring guide:
  • The timeline activity should be collected and graded (8 points possible).
  • The document analysis sheets should be collected and graded (30 points possible, 5 points per sheet).  Due the variety of answers possible on some questions, grade the analysis sheets giving maximum points to students who positively participate and justify their answers.
  • The answers on the essay will also vary, but students should provide thorough answers with specific examples in a well written essay (20 points possible).