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Father Emil Kapaun to be awarded Medal of Honor

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Father Emil Kapaun celebrating Mass with this jeep hood as an alter, Oct 7, 1950.

Father Emil Joseph Kapaun celebrating Mass with this jeep hood as an alter, Oct 7, 1950. Kapaun was captured by Chinese troops during the Korean war less than a month later on November 2, 1950. Kapaun died in a prison camp May 23, 1951 at age 35. Photo by Col. R. A. Skeehan

The Wichita Eagle reports that Emil Kapaun, serving as a Roman Catholic chaplain, will be awarded the Medal of Honor on April 11, 2013, for his valor during the Korean War. Kapaun, awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his battlefield actions, will receive the Medal for his actions as a prisoner of the Chinese. From Nov. 2, 1950 to May 23, 1951, Father Kapaun was held prisoner, first during a forced march north and then in a prisoner of war camp. The priest had remained behind with a group of American wounded as U.N. forces were forced to retreat in the face of the Chinese assault.

A website dedicated to Father Emil Kapaun provides this brief bio:

Father Kapaun, was born in Pilsen, Kansas in the Diocese of Wichita, Kansas on Holy Thursday, April 20, 1916. He was ordained as a Priest for the Diocese on June 9, 1940 and entered the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps in 1944.
Separated from the service in 1946, he re-entered the Army in 1948 and was sent to Japan the following year.
In July of 1950 Father Kapaun was ordered to Korea. On November 2 of that same year he was taken as a prisoner of war. In the seven months in prison, Father Kapaun spent himself in heroic service to his fellow prisoners without regard for race, color or creed.
To this there is testimony of men of all faiths. Ignoring his own ill health, he nursed the sick and wounded until a blood clot in his leg prevented his daily rounds. Moved to a so-called hospital, but denied medical assistance, his death soon followed on May 23, 1951.

The Saturday Evening Post has done at least two articles on Father Kapaun. Here is how they describe his capture:

Father Kapaun, who was unwounded, might have escaped with them. He refused to go. Of his own free will he stayed on, helping Captain Clarence L. Anderson, the regimental surgeon, take care of the wounded. And there, just at dark, the Chinese took him as he said the last prayers over a dying man.


The Association of the United States Army provides a detailed look at Kapaun’s activities as a prisoner of the Chinese.

The Americans soon discovered that earlier Chinese promises of warm barracks, medical care and plenty of food were, at best, overly optimistic. The prisoners received no blankets, no medicine and meager rations. Both on the march and after they reached Sombakol, prisoners subsisted on about 500 grams of food per day, usually in the form of millet, cracked corn or soy beans.
Kapaun and several other officers quickly realized that their survival depended on their ability to steal extra food from their captors. The priest concluded that the commandment against theft did not apply to men in such desperate straits and began venturing forth each night in search of food. He began returning with corn, garlic, peppers, salt and, on one occasion, a hundred-pound sack of potatoes.
Kapaun also began sneaking down to the enlisted huts. Many Sombakol prisoners were soldiers of the 8th Cavalry captured at Unsan, and they welcomed their chaplain’s visits. Praying with some and joking with others, the priest did more than simply cheer up the young prisoners. He also provided desperately needed hope amid desolate conditions.

Statue of Father Emil Kapaun located on church grounds at Pilsen, KS.

Statue of Father Emil Kapaun located on church grounds at Pilsen, KS.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Wichita has pursued sainthood for Father Emil Kapaun for over a decade. This is how their webpage honoring the cause of sainthood describes Kapaun:

Father Emil Kapaun was born in Pilsen, Kansas on Holy Thursday, April 20, 1916. He was ordained as a Priest for the Diocese on June 9, 1940 and entered the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps in 1944.

Separated from the service in 1946, he re-entered the Army in 1948 and was sent to Japan the following year.

In July of 1950 Father Kapaun was ordered to Korea. On November 2 of that same year he was taken as a prisoner of war. In the seven months in prison, Father Kapaun spent himself in heroic service to his fellow prisoners without regard for race, color or creed.

To this there is testimony of men of all faiths. Ignoring his own ill health, he nursed the sick and wounded until a blood clot in his leg prevented his daily rounds. Moved to a so-called hospital, but denied medical assistance, his death soon followed on May 23, 1951.

The Diocese of Wichita and the Vatican have begun the formal process that could lead to Father Kapaun’s canonization. In 1993, it was announced that Fr. Kapaun would receive the title of “Servant of God”

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