I wrote about this incredible man some time ago. At that time, he was still listed as missing in action. But what he did for his troops in Korea on the front lines and as a POW was a clear example of heroism beyond the call of duty. Because of this, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. His name is Fr. Emil Kapaun.
Kapaun was born in Pilsen, Kansas, in 1916 and was ordained a priest in 1940. During WWII, he provided the sacraments for the soldiers at a nearby Army base in Kansas until he became a full-time Army Chaplain. He then served in India and Burma for the rest of the war.
While in India and Burma, he gained a reputation for undaunted courage. When his jeep was destroyed, he took up riding a bicycle out to his troops. They said he would find his men by following the sound of gunshots. He was always there to help with the wounded and to give the sacraments or simply to offer an ear to the men.
In Korea, Kapaun served with the U.S. Army 8th Cavalry Regiment. There, too, he was never far from his men. Indeed, he was most often up at the front with them. This was true in November of 1950 at the Battle of Unsan. The regiment was engaged in a massive battle with Chinese and North Korean forces. They were able to push back the original assault, but they soon found themselves surrounded. They were given orders to do whatever was necessary to retreat out of the battle.
During the battle, Fr. Kapaun ran across open ground over and over again to get to wounded troops to give first aid or to get them to a safer position. The fighting was intense and desperate. While the regiment began to open a corridor and to move out of the kill zone, too many of the men were too wounded to be able to go. Fr. Kapaun volunteered to stay with the wounded.
One of the wounded soldiers he would take care of that day was one of the Chinese attackers. That soldier helped Fr. Kapaun negotiate the surrender of himself and the wounded. Fr. Kapaun and his wounded men became POWs to the Chinese forces. Fr. Kapaun carried one of the wounded men over the entire 20-mile walk to the prison camp at Pyoktong, even though that man weighed 20 lbs. more than Fr. Kapaun.
In the POW camp, Fr. Kapaun continued to serve his wounded and sick men. He washed their clothes, retrieved fresh water for them, tended their wounds, and engaged them in things like problem-solving to keep up their morale. He somehow found a way to say Mass and to hear confessions as well.
Though weakened by disease, suffering from pneumonia and a blood clot in his leg, Kapaun was able to celebrate Mass for his men on Easter Sunday, 1951. He was denied medical care by his captors and died only two months later from illness and possibly a heart attack. He was buried somewhere in the POW camp.
Fr. Kapaun has been put forward for canonization in the Catholic Church and those doing the necessary investigations in the process discovered that Fr. Kapaun’s remains were actually repatriated after the Korean Armistice in 1954, along with many others from the POW camp. They were buried with all of the other unidentified remains from the Korean War at the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii.
Fr. Kapaun’s remains were recently fully identified by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command of the Defense Department. His family, the United States Army, and the Catholic Diocese in Kansas where his hometown is are all thrilled with the news. The family is now making arrangements to bring him home to Pilsen, Kansas.
The Veterans Site honors the memory of Fr. Emil Kapaun for his undaunted commitment to God and to the troops under his care during both WWII and Korea. We believe he would have us remember all who were held as POWs and to pray for all those still listed as Missing In Action, that they may be found and returned to their families.
Thank you, Fr. Kapaun, for your selfless courage, for showing us the meaning of unselfish sacrifice for the good of others, and for demonstrating what it takes to truly love others, even our enemies.Whizzco