By Leo Wolfson, State Political Reporter
The first U.S. Army Ranger to return to battle with a prosthetic limb will speak in Casper on Friday.
Master Sgt. Joseph Kapacziewski, a Special Operations member of the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, will help the Natrona County Republican Women honor fallen veterans at their Wreaths Across America Gala.
Kapacziewski, who goes by “Joe Kap,” will be the keynote speaker of the evening. Kap has been deployed 11 times in Afghanistan and Iraq, six of which were in Afghanistan with his artificial limb.
He’s chronicled his journey as a soldier and amputee in a book titled “Back in the Fight.”
“We’re so blessed that we have him coming,” said Kim Walker, president of the Natrona County Republican Women.
The Challenged Athletes Foundation reports that while in Iraq on his fifth combat tour, Kap was severely injured when a grenade blast severed the median nerve and brachial artery in his right arm, left him with deep tissue wounds on his hip and shattered bones in his right leg.
After 42 surgeries to the leg, Kap decided to have it amputated in 2007 so he could continue living the lifestyle he wanted and serve his country.
Kap has earned a Bronze Star Medal with a “V” device (two Oak Leaf Clusters) and a Meritorious Service Medal, Purple Heart, among many other awards and commendations. He is still in active service as a squad leader for his Ranger Battalion.
Walker said Kap isn’t accepting payment to speak at the event.
“He was just honored to have us ask him to come speak,” she said.
A Cowboy State Hunt
Walker said Kap, a Georgia resident, spent last week hunting in Wyoming with friends. She said he’s friends with Colten Sasser, a Casper Army veteran and amputee who co-founded Hunting with Heroes, an organization that provides hunting, fishing and other outdoor experiences for disabled veterans.
Also speaking at the event will be Wyoming Air National Guardsman Tech. Sgt. Shyloh Buchholz. Buchholz is a Casper resident and member of the Natrona County Republican Women who recently returned from a deployment in New York City. Walker said while there, Buchholz helped deliver a baby for a foreign couple.
“She’ll be talking about her experience,” Walker said. “It will be neat to have someone from Casper.”
Former K2 Radio host Bob Price will announce the event.
Wreaths For Remembrance
The purpose of the Wreaths Across America program is to remember, honor and teach about the value of fallen veterans.
“They say a person dies twice, once when their heart stops beating, and then a second time when somebody says their name for the last time,” Walker said.
The Natrona County wreath laying began in 2016.
In 2018 and 2019, the gala raised enough money to place 4,300 wreaths at veterans’ graves at cemeteries in central Wyoming. Volunteers laid 3,000 wreaths at the Oregon Trail Veterans Cemetery in Evansville, 1,000 at the Highland Cemetery in Casper, 200 at the Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Casper and 100 wreaths at a cemetery in Kaycee.
Although no galas were held in 2020 and 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization still laid wreaths.
Walker discovered through the wreath laying that there is a Spanish American War veteran and Civil War veteran resting at Highland Cemetery.
There will be wreath laying ceremonies held Dec. 17 at the Oregon Trail Cemetery, Highland Cemetery and Memorial Gardens Cemetery. Walker said they have had 700-900 volunteers help in the past.
“This just makes your Christmas. It’s incredible, just absolutely incredible,” Walker said. “It’s just so humbling when you walk through the cemeteries, especially Highland, and see how many veterans are there.”
Their organization will offer a free dinner on Friday to about 100 veterans at the event.
“It’s how we honor the living vets,” Walker said.
The gala will start at 5:30 p.m. at the Ramkota Hotel and will feature a chicken dinner, silent and live auctions. Walker said some of the items being auctioned off include a one-of-a-kind beer stein memorializing veterans, a free growler of beer each month for a year from a local brewery, a guided pheasant hunt and many other items.
Individual tickets are $60 and $500 for a table of eight. For more information or tickets, call 307-277-1748 or 703-362-0264.