Chaplain Emil J. Kapaun, while assigned to Headquarters Company, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism, patriotism, and selfless service between Nov. 1-2, 1950. During the Battle of Unsan [North Korea], Kapaun was serving with the 3rd Battalion of the 8th Cavalry Regiment. As Chinese Communist forces encircled the battalion, Kapaun moved fearlessly from foxhole to foxhole under direct enemy fire in order to provide comfort and reassurance to the outnumbered Soldiers. He repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire to recover wounded men, dragging them to safety. When he couldn't drag them, he dug shallow trenches to shield them from enemy fire. As Chinese forces closed in, Kapaun rejected several chances to escape, instead volunteering to stay behind and care for the wounded. He was taken as a prisoner of war by Chinese forces on Nov. 2, 1950.During yesterday’s award ceremony, President Obama called Capt. Kapaun “An American soldier who didn’t fire a gun, but who wielded the mightiest weapon of all, a love for his brothers so pure that he was willing to die so that they might live.”
After he was captured, Kapaun and other prisoners were marched for several days northward toward prisoner-of-war camps. During the march Kapaun led by example in caring for injured Soldiers, refusing to take a break from carrying the stretchers of the wounded while encouraging others to do their part.
Once inside the dismal prison camps, Kapaun risked his life by sneaking around the camp after dark, foraging for food, caring for the sick, and encouraging his fellow Soldiers to sustain their faith and their humanity. On at least one occasion, he was brutally punished for his disobedience, being forced to sit outside in subzero weather without any garments. When the Chinese instituted a mandatory re-education program, Kapaun patiently and politely rejected every theory put forth by the instructors. Later, Kapaun openly flouted his captors by conducting a sunrise service on Easter morning, 1951.
When Kapaun began to suffer from the physical toll of his captivity, the Chinese transferred him to a filthy, unheated hospital where he died alone. As he was being carried to the hospital, he asked God's forgiveness for his captors, and made his fellow prisoners promise to keep their faith. Chaplain Kapaun died in captivity on May 23, 1951.
Chaplain Emil J. Kapaun repeatedly risked his own life to save the lives of hundreds of fellow Americans. His extraordinary courage, faith and leadership inspired thousands of prisoners to survive hellish conditions, resist enemy indoctrination, and retain their faith in God and country. His actions reflect the utmost credit upon him, the 1st Cavalry Division, and the United States Army.
Kapaun graduated from the college seminary of Conception Abbey, located north of Kansas City, and also attended Kenrick Seminary in Saint Louis, Missouri. He was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Wichita.
Fr. Kapaun exhibited spiritual and corporal works of mercy in great abundance, and the number of miracles attributed to his intercession are remarkable. Because of his heroic virtue, Fr, Kapaun was recognized as a Servant of God by Pope John Paul II in 1993. Fr. Kapaun’s Cause for Sainthood can be found at the Diocese of Wichita’s website here.
From a homily of Fr. Kapaun for Palm Sunday:
A great leader exerts a most powerful influence over the hearts and minds of his followers. Though the task of following such a leader is most arduous in itself, yet it becomes sweet and honorable, and comparatively easy in practice when the followers consider the dignity of the leader, the relation of the leader to his followers, the motives which prompt the leader, and the rewards which he offers.More information can be found at the Father Kapaun Guild: http://www.frkapaun.org
Greater dignity than the dignity of Christ we cannot imagine. Christ is God the Son, equal to the Father and the Holy Ghost in all things. He is our King, for God the Father sent Him to redeem us and teach us the way of salvation. His position and honor among God’s people in this world is the highest. No other leader can compare in dignity with Him.