Fr. Kapaun begins journey home

Military and civilians line a walkway as the remains of Fr. Emil Kapaun are taken to a hearse at the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency in Honolulu, Hawaii. (Scott Carter/Catholic Advance)

Fr. Kapaun’s journey home has begun.

An entourage from the Diocese of Wichita visited the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency Tuesday, Sept. 21. The agency identifies the remains of fallen soldiers and is located at the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, adjacent to Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu.

Ray Kapaun and his wife, Lee, Bishop Carl A. Kemme, Fr. David Lies, Fr. Wayne Schmid, and Scott Carter were escorted by Johnie Webb, deputy director of Outreach & Communications, to the Family Viewing Room to see Fr. Kapaun’s remains before a ceremonial exit from the facility.

A ‘powerful moment’

“We were able to view the remains and prayed the prayers for Gathering in the Presence of a Body,” Carter said. “It was a powerful moment. All of us were super-touched to be there in the presence of a man who could be a saint, along with his family.”

He said all of those present had a close relationship to Fr. Kapaun but to be with his remains “took things to another level. We’re definitely excited to bring him home.”

After spending some time there, the family placed a blanket over Fr. Kapaun and a U.S. flag was draped over the casket.

Carter said employees of the facility lined one side of a walkway and military lined the other side as the remains, accompanied by military representatives, were ceremonially moved from the facility to a hearse.

Tears began flowing

“That’s when tears started coming,” Carter said, “seeing how much of an impact he had on the staff and the military here. They’ve come to know and love what he did for his fellow prisoners.”

After a salute, the remains were placed into the hearse for Fr. Kapaun to begin his journey back to Kansas.

In addition to some sight-seeing, a documentary video crew hired by the diocese interviewed Dr. Jennie Jin, a Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency forensic anthropologist, whose grandfather was a North Korean refugee.

Fr. Kapaun’s journey was initiated in March when Ray Kapaun was notified at his home on Whidbey Island in Washington State that the remains of his uncle has been identified. Ray said he was more surprised to learn about Fr. Kapaun’s remains than he would have been if he had told Fr. Kapaun’s cause for canonization had moved forward.

Ray Kapaun flew to Hawaii in June to initiate Fr. Kapaun’s journey home.

About Fr. Kapaun

Fr. Kapaun was known for risking his life on the battlefield during the Korean War to minister to the troops on the frontlines. He was taken a prisoner of war in November of 1950, enduring brutal captivity where he continued to serve and bolster the morale of fellow prisoners. Fr. Kapaun died in a prison camp on May 23, 1951. He was awarded the Medal of Honor in 2013 for his heroic actions on the battlefield.

Fr. Kapaun’s remains were among the 4,200 sets of remains returned to the United States in 1954. They were interred in National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, known as the Punchbowl, on Oahu Island. The remains were among those dug up in 2019 and sent to the laboratory to utilized DNA to identify remains.

In 1993, Father Emil Kapaun was named a Servant of God, signifying that his cause for sainthood could begin. A thorough investigation into his life was conducted by the Diocese of Wichita and the details presented to the Congregation for Saints in Rome, where his cause awaits review on the path to what we pray will be his eventual beatification and canonization.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency is an agency within the United States Department of Defense whose mission is to recover United States military personnel who are listed as prisoners of war or missing in action from designated past conflicts, from countries around the world.

For more information on Fr. Kapaun’s story and his cause for canonization visit