Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
I first wrote this essay several years ago, at that time Father Kapuan’s remains were considered lost, that has changed. His remains have now been identified. I would like to thank @scottwilmot for bringing this update to the story of Father Kapuan to my attention.
The remains of Father Emil Kapaun, a Kansas native and Catholic priest who died while a prisoner of war, have been identified by military officials.
Sen. Jerry Moran announced Thursday that the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency of the Department of Defense has identified Kapaun’s remains. As of Thursday evening, Kapaun was not listed by the agency among the names of people who have recently been accounted for.
“This evening I was notified that the remains of Marion County-native Father Emil Kapaun, a priest of the Diocese of Wichita, have been identified,” Moran said in a statement. “Father Kapaun served as an Army Chaplain during WWII and the Korean War, and was taken as a Prisoner of War in 1951. He continued to minister to Americans as a POW before passing away on May 23, 1951.
Father Kapuan, Medal of Honor
The Korean War has been called the Forgotten War. The Soldiers and Marines that fought in this brutal war will never call it the Forgotten War.
In a mountainous area in North Korea near the Chinese border, there is a mass grave that contains the bodies of American soldiers, prisoners of war that perished from starvation, battlefield injuries, disease, and beatings administered by their Chinese Communist captors.
These men rest in God’s Peace far from home. They rest together linked in death, as they were linked in life enduring battle and hardship.
On this Memorial Day weekend, there are no Stars and Stripes that sprout from the ground like single-stemmed flowers that mark their resting place.
They left behind families that grieved for them, families that held their photographs and reread their letters, and saw their faces in the children, brothers, sisters, nieces, and nephews they left behind. Those families that were left behind send prayers in place of flowers, prayers that reach across eternity where no flowers go.
Father Emil Kapaun rests with them. Father Kapaun was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery and courage, not just in battle, but also in captivity. Father Kapaun has earned the Medal of Honor, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star with V for Valor, Purple Heart, POW Medal, and the Distinguished Service Cross. Father Kapaun is also on the road to sainthood.
“He expressed no fear of the enemy and stories of his brave deeds of dragging soldiers to safety, tending to their wounds and suffering circulated among the officers and men. How many lives were saved because of him? Only God knows for sure. His exposure to the terrible combat operations was for him, I believe, a dress rehearsal, for what followed.”
Father Kapaun’s jeep was hit so many times with bullets and shrapnel that it finally bit the dust. He had to abandon it and use a bicycle to get around the battlefield. His Mass kit was also pelted twice and the utensils and little chalice were too battered to fix. South Korean priests gave him a third kit, the essentials of which he decided to carry inside his leather jacket with his chalice tied to his belt. Nothing could stop Father Kapaun from offering Mass. His soldiers needed the graces, and so did he.
One time a report came in about a wounded soldier who was left on the front because there were no litters left to carry him. Kapaun asked for his location. He and an assistant then dashed ahead to rescue the man with no thought for their own safety. Machine gun and small arms fire sprayed bullets all around them. They found the wounded soldier and carried him back to camp and saved his life. For this particular act of heroism (almost routine for the chaplain) Father Kapaun was awarded the Bronze Star.
Braving the battlefield, often crawling on his hands and knees, Chaplain Kapaun was always searching for the wounded. He kept his guardian angel busy with so many close calls. A bullet once clipped the pipe in his mouth right in half. He was unfazed. He picked up the half-pipe, smiled, and took a good drag. Another time a shell nicked his helmet and knocked it off his head. Not even a scratch. The chaplain had his share of minor wounds, however. He got hit in the elbow once and the bone was seriously damaged. Every time he picked up a pen after that, he wrote awkwardly, and in pain.”
Medal of Honor Citation
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:
Chaplain Emil J. Kapaun distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the 3d Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy at Unsan, Korea, from November 1-2, 1950. On November 1, as Chinese Communist Forces viciously attacked friendly elements, Chaplain Kapaun calmly walked through withering enemy fire in order to provide comfort and medical aid to his comrades and rescue friendly wounded from no-man’s land.
Though the Americans successfully repelled the assault, they found themselves surrounded by the enemy. Facing annihilation, the able-bodied men were ordered to evacuate. However, Chaplain Kapaun, fully aware of his certain capture, elected to stay behind with the wounded. After the enemy succeeded in breaking through the defense in the early morning hours of November 2, Chaplain Kapaun continually made rounds, as hand-to-hand combat ensued.
As Chinese Communist 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, with complete disregard for his personal safety and unwavering resolve, bravely pushed aside an enemy soldier preparing to execute Sergeant First Class Herbert A. Miller. Not only did Chaplain Kapaun’s gallantry save the life of Sergeant Miller, but also his unparalleled courage and leadership inspired all those present, including those who might have otherwise fled in panic, to remain and fight the enemy until captured. Chaplain Kapaun’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness, above and beyond the call of duty, are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the 3d Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, the 1st Cavalry Division, and the United States Army.