Father Emil Kapaun, a priest of the Diocese of Wichita who died a hero in 1951 during the Korean War, will posthumously receive the Medal of Honor April 11. The White House made the announcement on Monday, March 11.
Bishop Michael O. Jackels and Father John Hotze will travel to Washington, D.C., to be with Ray Kapaun, Father Kapaun’s nephew, who will accept the award from President Barack Obama for Father Kapaun’s conspicuous gallantry. A ceremony at the Pentagon will follow on April 12.
Father Kapaun was a man of hope, says Father Hotze
Father Hotze, episcopal delegate for the Office of the Beatification and Canonization of Fr. Emil Kapaun, said Monday that the work begun by prisoners upon their release from Prison Camp Number 5 in Pyoktong, North Korea, has reached fruition.
“These prisoners of war wanted to tell the world about the valiant efforts of Chaplain Kapaun. These men attribute the fact that they survived their internment in the prison camp to the efforts of Chaplain Kapaun,” Fr. Hotze said.
“He was not only a man of hope, but a man that was able to instill hope in others. Chaplain Kapaun demonstrated through his actions that their lives were worth fighting for.”
Father Hotze said the priest from Pilsen, Kan., showed his fellow prisoners that it was worth the effort to fight the cold, the starvation, the brainwashing, the disease, and the punishment of their captors to stay alive and make it home to their families and their country.
“These men wanted their country to know of the selfless gift of Chaplain Kapaun,” he said. “This gift was his very life, willfully given to help his fellow prisoners.”
Fr. Hotze said the men Chaplain Kapaun served are also honored by the medal.
“We give thanks for the example of Chaplain Kapaun and we give thanks to his fellow prisoners for telling us his story and keeping Chaplain Kapaun alive for all of us.”
An even great honor awaits Father Kapaun.
The diocese is awaiting notification from the Vatican’s Congregation for Saints regarding the Fr. Kapaun’s Cause for Beatification and Canonization. The work on behalf of the Diocese of Wichita ended on July 1, 2011, with a Mass and Closing Ceremony in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Wichita.
The diocese had been investigating Fr. Kapaun’s life since 2001 and officially opened the work on Fr. Kapaun’s cause on June 29, 2008. At that time, with the help of our Postulator in Rome, Dr. Andrea Ambrosi, the diocese began to collect data and information required by the Congregation for Saints.
Father Hotze said at the closing of the diocesan work that “finishing the collection of this information that will hopefully, with the grace of God, prove Father Kapaun worthy of beatification and then canonization as a Saint of the Catholic Church.”
He said he believed the thousands of pages that the diocese sent to the Congregation will establish the fact that Father Kapaun lived a life of sanctity and heroic virtue.
Completing the years of work for Fr. Kapaun’s cause brought out a sense of awe in him, Fr. Hotze said at the time.
“It is not only the culmination of years of work, but think of the gift that has been given to our diocese. The fact that we, unlike any other diocese in the United States, in the world, have been blessed by the example of this saintly man, Father Emil Kapaun, boggles my mind,” Fr. Hotze said.
react to the news
Congressman Mike Pompeo, a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and an Army Cavalry veteran, said the announcement was great news for “Father Kapaun’s family and the many Kansans and other Americans whose lives were touched by him and who cherish his memory.”
He said he was proud of Father Kapaun’s bravery and selfless acts of compassion for his fellow soldiers during their time of captivity.
“It is fitting that Father Kapaun’s memory will be honored by presenting his family with the Medal of Honor posthumously. He gave his life protecting his men and this great country, and is richly deserving of this award,” Rep. Pompeo said in a statement.
Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, a former Marine, said: “Ensuring the sacrifice, valor and service of Father Emil Kapaun is recognized has been a long effort by many. I am pleased that his family and those that served with him will be present for the ceremony to honor this Kansas hero.”
Brief history of Fr. Kapaun’s capture and death
Father Kapaun served as an Army chaplain for the 8th Cavalry regiment of the First Army Division when the unit came under attack in the devastating Battle of Unsan. Chaplain Kapaun walked through withering enemy fire in order to provide comfort and medical aid to his comrades. When they found themselves surrounded by the enemy, the able-bodied men were ordered to evacuate.
Chaplain Kapaun, fully aware of his certain capture, elected to stay behind with the wounded. As hand-to-hand combat ensued, he continued to make rounds. As enemy forces approached the American position, Chaplain Kapaun noticed an injured Chinese officer amongst the wounded and convinced him to negotiate the safe surrender of the American forces. Shortly after his capture, Chaplain Kapaun pushed aside an enemy soldier preparing to execute a comrade, thus saving a life and inspiring all those present to remain and fight the enemy until captured.
After their capture, Father Kapaun heroically supported his men by stealing food to feed them, caring for the sick and injured, and inspiring them with his faith and generosity.
Want more information?
For more information about Father Kapaun, go to the Father Kapaun Cause page at CatholicDioceseOfWichita.org.
‘Miracle of Father Kapaun’ to be aired on KPTS March 31
The documentary “The Miracle of Father Kapaun” will be broadcast at 5 p.m. Sunday, March 31, on KPTS, channel 8, in Wichita.
The video is about Father Emil Kapaun, a priest of the Diocese of Wichita, who died a U.S. Army chaplain in a North Korean prisoner of war camp in 1951. Several miracles have been attributed to his intercession.
The broadcast is being underwritten by the Catholic Family Federal Credit Union.