President Obama to Award Medal of Honor Posthumously to Korean War Hero Father Emil J. Kapaun

Catholic U.S. Army Chaplain to be honored in 11 April 2013 White House Ceremony

WASHINGTON, D.C.— On April 11, President Barack Obama will award the Catholic priest, U.S. Army Chaplain and Korean War hero, the late Father Captain Emil J. Kapaun, the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry, the nation’s highest military honor. Chaplain Kapaun will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his extraordinary heroism while serving with the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division in combat operations against Chinese communists at Unsan, Korea and as a prisoner of war from November 2, 1950 until his death on May 23, 1951.

When the Chinese viciously attacked his unit at Unsan, Chaplain Kapaun moved fearlessly from foxhole to foxhole under direct enemy fire, providing comfort and first aid to his outnumbered comrades.  As the surrounding enemy closed in, U.S. officers ordered an evacuation, but Chaplain Kapaun elected to stay behind with the wounded, fully aware of his certain capture.  He repeatedly crawled to the wounded, dragging some to safety and digging shallow trenches for others to shield them from enemy fire.

As enemy forces approached the American position and hand-to-hand combat ensued, Father Kapaun noticed a wounded Chinese officer. He convinced him to negotiate the safe surrender of the American forces.  Shortly after his capture, Chaplain Kapaun bravely pushed aside an enemy soldier preparing to execute a comrade, thus saving a life and inspiring others. Following their capture, Father Kapaun and his fellow prisoners marched for several days northward toward prisoner-of-war camps. He refused to take a break from carrying stretchers for the wounded while encouraging others to do their part.

In 1993, the Catholic Church  formally initiated his cause for sainthood and upon approval from the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Father Kapaun was designated a Servant of God. His home diocese of Wichita, Kansas serves as Postulator of the Cause. The Diocese of Wichita and the Archdiocese for the Military Services (AMS) have received reports of miracles involving Father Kapaun, including accounts by some of his fellow prisoners of war. Father John Hotze, judicial vicar of the Diocese of Wichita, is gathering information to determine what if any miracles can be attributed to Father Kapaun that would indicate that he should be beatified. Father Kapaun is also being considered for possible designation as a martyr for the faith, which would allow him to be beatified without performing a miracle.

His Excellency, the Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., Archbishop for the Military Services, welcomed the official announcement of the Medal of Honor award.

Archbishop Broglio said:

“The recognition of the selfless sacrifice by this good priest, who was truly a good shepherd to his men, regardless of their religious convictions gives witness to the finest traditions of the military chaplaincy and the Catholic priesthood.  The Armed Forces of our Nation firmly attest to the Judeo-Christian roots of the national ethos.  Each person has unalienable rights and inestimable value, because he or she is created in the image and likeness of God.  Father Kapaun lived and died in service to that fundamental truth.  I rejoice that it is recognized, even sixty-two years after his death.” 

Father Hotze said:

“Many people have been working toward this day for years.  The first of those to undertake the mission of seeking this award for Chaplain Kapaun were Chaplain Kapaun’s fellow prisoners of war.  In 1953, upon their release from Prison Camp No.5, in North Korea, those whose lives had been touched by Chaplain Kapaun began to tell his story.  They told of Chaplain Kapaun working tirelessly so that his fellow captives might have food, clean water and clean clothes.  They told of Chaplain Kapaun instilling hope in his fellow captives so that they might hold on to that will to live, to survive and to eventually return home.  They tell of Chaplain Kapaun’s selfless gift of his own life as he fell sick and was eventually taken to the “Death House” by their captors.  Sixty years later, we applaud the efforts of these men as their goal has been reached, that of Chaplain Kapaun now being recognized as the great man, soldier and Chaplain that he was.” 

Father Kapaun’s nephew, Ray Kapaun, and family will join President Obama at the White House to commemorate his example of selfless service and sacrifice.

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