Remains of Fr. Kapaun identified in Hawaii
His remains were among those transferred to the U.S. after the 1953 armistice pact
William Hansen kept his silence for over 50 years that he was one of the prisoners-of-war who buried Fr. Emil Kapaun’s body after the priest died on May 23, 1951.
In 2005, Hansen was in his doctor’s office at a VA Hospital in Florida when he read an article about the U.S. Army chaplain who died a hero in a North Korean prisoner-of-war camp.
Scott Carter, the coordinator of the Father Kapaun Guild for the Diocese of Wichita, said Hansen told his doctor that Fr. Kapaun was a fellow prisoner-of-war and that he helped bury the priest of the Diocese of Wichita.
Hansen said had never talked about his connection to Fr. Kapaun, Carter added, because he said he was sworn to secrecy about the matter by the U.S. Army.
“His doctor told Hansen that he felt it was OK with the Army now and that he definitely needed to contact them,” Carter said.
“Hansen explained that Fr. Kapaun wasn’t buried in a mass grave like most of the POWS had assumed, but that he was buried in the town behind one of the huts in kind of a lean-to,” he said.
As a result, it was more likely that Fr. Kapaun’s remains had been transferred when the remains of about 4,000 prisoners were exchanged as part of the 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement, Carter said. Over 800 of those were unidentified.
Announcement made March 4
The identification of Fr. Kapaun’s remains was announced Thursday, March 4, when the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) stated that Department of Defense investigators had identified the remains of Fr. Kapaun among the unknown Korean War soldiers buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii.
“I heard that they had made a lot of progress recently in their ability to extract DNA from the bones to identify these men,” Carter said. “In the last three years, they developed a new technique to extract the DNA.”
He added that the agency hopes to have all of the remaining unknown soldiers identified in the next five or six years.
“The DPA contacted Ray Kapaun, Fr. Kapaun’s nephew,” he said. “Thankfully we’ve got a great relationship with Ray and he contacted Father Hotze to share the great news. He quickly contacted the bishop and then told me as well.”
Fr. John Hotze is the postulator for the Cause of Fr. Kapaun’s Canonization. The postulator is the official who presents a plea for beatification or canonization.
Bishop Kemme surprised, excited
The Most Rev. Carl A. Kemme, bishop of the Diocese of Wichita, said he was surprised and excited about the news. “We continue to look forward to his process of canonization in the future.”
Carter said when he got the call on March 4 from Fr. Hotze he thought it might be a minor update from Rome.
“We knew they were working on the remains, but we still weren’t prepared to receive the good news,” he said.
About 95 percent of Fr. Kapaun’s skeletal remains were identified by the DPAA. “That is quite remarkable because a lot of the other remains they’ve been working on recently were just fragments from the battlefield,” Carter said.
The family is responsible for determining where the remains will be interred, he said, adding that they are also interested in discussing the matter with the Diocese of Wichita.
“Even when he was alive, Fr. Kapaun gave his life to the church and he became a man for all,” Carter said. “Now that his cause for sainthood is under consideration, he’s much bigger than the diocese.”
Memorial Mass celebrated in 1953
Bishop Mark K. Carroll celebrated a memorial Mass in 1953 for Fr. Kapaun, he said, “but we’ve never been able to have an actual funeral or an actual burial.”
During that Mass, celebrated July 29, 1953, in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Wichita, Bishop Carroll said the faithful must be like soldiers, that Christ died for the truth. “Not in all history can we find anything to equal the heroism of Christ the soldier.”
A priest is the vicar of Christ, he said. “The work of a priest is the same as that of Christ. He is to be an apostle of love and the ambassador of peace, and at the same time he is to be pre-eminently a soldier of Christ, the captain of souls…fighting error and superstition and the sinful spirit of the world.”
Carter said now that the remains have been identified,many other details regarding the status of his cause and Fr. Kapaun’s remains will be discussed.
“When I heard that his remains were coming I was super excited, but at the same time the thought about Fr. Kapaun’s last words to his fellow prisoners: ‘Hey guys, don’t worry about me. I’m going to where I always wanted to go. And when I get there, I’ll say a prayer for you. And tell my bishop I died a happy death.’”
Want to learn more about Fr. Kapaun?
Fr. Emil Kapaun, a native of Pilsen, Kansas and a priest of the Diocese of Wichita, served as a U.S. Army chaplain in World War II and the Korean War. Although he could have avoided capture by the North Koreans, he allowed himself to be taken prisoner with his fellow soldiers. Fr. Kapaun heroically served his flock in a North Korean prisoner-of-war camp in Pyoktong where he died.
For details about Fr. Emil Kapaun’s life and his cause for canonization, visit www.frkapaun.org.