Hometown honors Ranger Joseph Kapacziewski with high school memorial

The halls of Bristol Eastern High School, Connecticut echoed with the Ranger Creed Tuesday afternoon. Legendary Ranger Joseph “Kap” Kapacziewski once walked these same halls as a teenager before becoming the first Ranger to return to combat with a prosthetic leg.

On Tuesday, July 2, a group of former and active duty Rangers, members of Kapacziewski’s family, and many others from his hometown gathered for a formal memorial dedication at the high school.  

“Joe Kapacziewski always worked hard at whatever he did. This dedication is the ability for others to see a hometown hero at his finest. He can still make a difference in other’s lives with his accomplishments,” said Mark Bernier, who retired from the Bristol Police Department, and was Kapacziewski’s mentor growing up. “Joe Kapacziewski affected my life  in a positive way, along with being a mentor to my sons and now to Americans who chose to be all they wish to be. He lives on in our hearts and souls.”

The high school dedicated an interior courtyard of the school for Kap, along with two Bristol police officers killed in the line of duty. The memorial in the courtyard isn’t finished yet, but students can still get to know their hometown hero while it’s being built. 

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A display case in a nearby interior hallway features a portrait and shadow box in memory of Kapacziewski. The American flag inside the shadow box was carried by him on deployment, and above it, sits several awards and medals that tell the story of his service. 

Steve Lewis, a once-upon-a-time rival football coach to Kap’s Bristol Eastern football team, has worked diligently over the past year and a half to memorialize Kapacziewski in the high school after attending his memorial service at the school.

“I approached the principal, Mike Higgins, afterwards, after I realized that there needed to be a visible symbol of who Kap was if they’re going to name a wing of the high school after him,” Lewis said. “So I was determined to put together a shadow box, and it took a long time to figure out how I was going to do it, find a graphic designer who was going to do a good job, because I didn’t want to have any kind of second rate display.”

Two of Lewis’ former football players went on to serve in 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, where they met Kapacziewski and figured out they beat him in a rivalry game while they were all in high school. They forged a solid friendship for the remainder of their time together in the Army. 

Sgt. Maj. Brandon Hollingsworth spoke highly of Kapacziewski during the dedication ceremony. The two served together in 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. (Photo courtesy of Steve Lewis)

Tragically, Kapacziewski took his own life on January 22, 2023. Army Maj. Benjamin “Ben” Hunter, who served with him and was there when he was injured, said Kapacziewski’s death “hit like a ton of bricks.”

“He’s stronger than this. He’s the one who’s always been so focused and driven. But it just shows what people are really going through and how deep and dark suicidal thoughts, depression, or mental health can be in those struggles,” Hunter said. 

Hunter is among the many Rangers who witnessed Kapacziewski’s incredible leadership and ability to persevere through the rigors of serving in the 75th Ranger Regiment. Hunter watched as Kapacziewski had to prove that he could still do the job post-amputation. He didn’t just meet the standard, he blew away the challenges like they were easy despite having the prosthetic. 

He was a Ranger, a leader, fit, aggressive, and a professional. It makes me proud that there’s an opportunity to celebrate that and the impact that Joe had on people’s lives, and help carry on that legacy of the things that he was able to accomplish,” Hunter said. “The fact that we’re having this conversation, talking about the crazy, cool, impactful things that he did after his injury. I think it’s just an opportunity to carry on the positive impacts that Joe had on other rangers and soldiers.”

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