Father Emil Kapuan, Medal of Honor

 

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.

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Published in Military
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  1. JennaStocker Member
    JennaStocker
    @JennaStocker

    These courageous, selfless, valiant men will never be forgotten as long we keep telling their stories. Thank you for sharing this, adding closure, and refusing to let the memories of their brave, honorable lives fade.

    • #1
  2. Dbroussa Coolidge
    Dbroussa
    @Dbroussa

    I really regret that I can only like this once.  Like isn’t even the right response.  My Dad is a Korean War Vet (USN) and I am always on the lookout for stories about the Korea War because it gets so little discussion normally.  Thanx for sharing.

    • #2
  3. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member
    9thDistrictNeighbor
    @9thDistrictNeighbor

    Santo subito!

     

    • #3
  4. Scott Wilmot Member
    Scott Wilmot
    @ScottWilmot

    Thanks Doug, great post.

    Fr. Kapuan, ora pro nobis.

    • #4
  5. colleenb Member
    colleenb
    @colleenb

    Thanks for sharing this @dougwatt. It is a blessing for the Church and us all that his body has been identified. It was wonderful to hear his voice in the documentary. God bless.

    • #5
  6. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member
    9thDistrictNeighbor
    @9thDistrictNeighbor

    I wonder about the details.  Was he part of the group returned because of President Trump’s negotiations with Kim?

    Also, I would assume that his family would want him buried in Kansas, but it sure would be nice for him to be buried surrounded by a bunch of enlisted men at Arlington.

    • #6
  7. Bishop Wash Member
    Bishop Wash
    @BishopWash

    Thank you for the story. I attended college in Wichita and started my career there. One of the local Catholic schools is Kapaun Mount Carmel. Occasionally the local paper would run an article on him.

    • #7
  8. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    Heroic!  

    • #8
  9. The Scarecrow Thatcher
    The Scarecrow
    @TheScarecrow

    Wow. Makes me loathe every modern-day whiner on the Left that we usually talk about here. And then I remember to loathe myself a little too, because I have been known to complain about this and that, here and there.

    This man and his story are very inspiring. I will be thinking about him a lot. Thanks for his story.

    • #9
  10. MiMac Thatcher
    MiMac
    @MiMac

    James Whitmore (from the Shawshank Redemption) played Fr Kapaun in the 1955 TV episode “The Good Thief” in the ABC series Crossroads. He is currently designated a Servant of God  & on the path to canonization as a Saint in the Catholic Church. There are several good books about him as well.

    Fr Kapaun’s POW camp had a significantly lower death rate than other camps mainly d/t his actions maintaining unit morale- thru humor and faith. He would go out to steal food for the POWs after praying to Saint Dismas-the good thief.

    • #10
  11. PappyJim Coolidge
    PappyJim
    @PappyJim

    @dougwatt Thanks for bringing the good Father to us.  As many military leaders ask – “Where do we get such men?”  I would like to put forth remembrance Father Vincent Capodanno who also was awarded the MoH for his actions in Viet Nam.  Again, thanks for remembering Father Kapuan.

     

    • #11
  12. colleenb Member
    colleenb
    @colleenb

    PappyJim (View Comment):

    @ dougwatt Thanks for bringing the good Father to us. As many military leaders ask – “Where do we get such men?” I would like to put forth remembrance Father Vincent Capodanno who also was awarded the MoH for his actions in Viet Nam. Again, thanks for remembering Father Kapuan.

     

    Thanks for remembering Fr. Capodanno – another heroic man and priest. May the world and the Church continue to be blessed by such men.

    • #12
  13. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    colleenb (View Comment):

    PappyJim (View Comment):

    @ dougwatt Thanks for bringing the good Father to us. As many military leaders ask – “Where do we get such men?” I would like to put forth remembrance Father Vincent Capodanno who also was awarded the MoH for his actions in Viet Nam. Again, thanks for remembering Father Kapuan.

     

    Thanks for remembering Fr. Capodanno – another heroic man and priest. May the world and the Church continue to be blessed by such men.

    Fr, Capodanno is a local hero where I live, Staten Island, NY.  

    • #13
  14. PappyJim Coolidge
    PappyJim
    @PappyJim

    Manny (View Comment):

    colleenb (View Comment):

    PappyJim (View Comment):

    @ dougwatt Thanks for bringing the good Father to us. As many military leaders ask – “Where do we get such men?” I would like to put forth remembrance Father Vincent Capodanno who also was awarded the MoH for his actions in Viet Nam. Again, thanks for remembering Father Kapuan.

     

    Thanks for remembering Fr. Capodanno – another heroic man and priest. May the world and the Church continue to be blessed by such men.

    Fr, Capodanno is a local hero where I live, Staten Island, NY.

    Father Vince is still know throughout the Corps as The Grunt Padre.    Every so often Leatherneck The Magazine for Marines carries his story.

    • #14
  15. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    PappyJim (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):

    colleenb (View Comment):

    PappyJim (View Comment):

    @ dougwatt Thanks for bringing the good Father to us. As many military leaders ask – “Where do we get such men?” I would like to put forth remembrance Father Vincent Capodanno who also was awarded the MoH for his actions in Viet Nam. Again, thanks for remembering Father Kapuan.

     

    Thanks for remembering Fr. Capodanno – another heroic man and priest. May the world and the Church continue to be blessed by such men.

    Fr, Capodanno is a local hero where I live, Staten Island, NY.

    Father Vince is still know throughout the Corps as The Grunt Padre. Every so often Leatherneck The Magazine for Marines carries his story.

    On Staten Island we have a nice along the shore road named Father Capodanno Blvd. 

    • #15
  16. PappyJim Coolidge
    PappyJim
    @PappyJim

    Manny (View Comment):

    PappyJim (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):

    colleenb (View Comment):

    PappyJim (View Comment):

    @ dougwatt Thanks for bringing the good Father to us. As many military leaders ask – “Where do we get such men?” I would like to put forth remembrance Father Vincent Capodanno who also was awarded the MoH for his actions in Viet Nam. Again, thanks for remembering Father Kapuan.

     

    Thanks for remembering Fr. Capodanno – another heroic man and priest. May the world and the Church continue to be blessed by such men.

    Fr, Capodanno is a local hero where I live, Staten Island, NY.

    Father Vince is still know throughout the Corps as The Grunt Padre. Every so often Leatherneck The Magazine for Marines carries his story.

    On Staten Island we have a nice along the shore road named Father Capodanno Blvd.

    Where else would a Sailor/Marine find peace?

     

    • #16