- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 14, 2009

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) | A Kansas priest already under consideration for sainthood has won the endorsement of the Army’s top civilian leader to receive the Medal of Honor.

The Rev. Emil Kapaun, a captain and chaplain in the Army during the Korean War, was taken prisoner in 1950 when the Chinese captured his unit. Kapaun continued to serve the men’s needs, risking his life to provide them with food and water amid squalid conditions.

Kapaun, a Roman Catholic, died in a prison camp seven months later.

In one of his final acts as Army secretary, Pete Geren wrote Rep. Todd Tiahrt, Kansas Republican, saying he agreed that Kapaun was worthy of the honor. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has also endorsed Kapaun’s honor.

Seven chaplains have received the Medal of Honor, including the Rev. Vincent Capodanno, a Navy chaplain from New York, wo was killed in Vietnam in 1967. In 2006, Capodanno was declared a servant of God by the Vatican, a step toward canonization.

Helen Kapaun, the chaplain’s sister-in-law, said her husband, Eugene, 85, has prayed that he would live to see his brother honored.

“We hoped it would have been sooner,” Mrs. Kapaun said Monday. “I think there were a lot of circumstances that had to be finished in God’s hands. Now, it proves that he was a saintly, holy man.”

Mr. Tiahrt began efforts to honor Kapaun in 2000 after reading about his life.

“It’s hard to imagine living through something like that. He handled it like a saint,” Mr. Tiahrt said Monday. “This is the kind of person that we ought to emulate.”

Congress must approve legislation sending Kapaun’s award to President Obama, which Mr. Tiahrt hopes happens by year’s end.

The Rev. John Hotze of the Wichita diocese said Kapaun’s recognition has been a long time in the making.

“He saw it as a role of serving his men and laying down his life for his men,” said Father Hotze, who has a Web site honoring Kapaun. “It’s like Christ coming to the world to serve instead of being served. That’s what Father Kapaun was all about.”

Kapaun was born in 1916 near the central Kansas town of Pilsen, about 60 miles north of Wichita. Ordained in 1940, he was a parish priest and auxiliary chaplain at the Herrington Army Air Base near Pilsen.

He was later sent to Southeast Asia during World War II, driving thousands of miles to celebrate Mass, often using his Jeep hood as an altar.

Kapaun returned to Kansas, but when the Korean War began he pleaded with his bishop to let him go back into the Army.

“They needed chaplains. He loved the service boys very much,” said Mrs. Kapaun, whose marriage was one of the last civilian ceremonies performed before Kapaun left for Korea.

The Vatican, which is investigating Kapaun for sainthood, has sent an investigator to Kansas to visit with the family of Chase Kear, who was injured when he fell on his head during pole vault practice in 2008. He cracked his skull and had swelling of his brain, and his family prayed for Kapaun to intercede on Mr. Kear’s behalf.

“I think they go hand in hand,” said Father Hotze, adding medical records were being compiled and translated to bolster Kapaun’s case. Mr. Kear, now 20, is attending Hutchinson Community College and driving again.

Mr. Kear’s mother, Paula, said members of Sacred Heart Parish in Colwich have long prayed to Kapaun for those needing healing.

“I think it’s about time and well deserved. I hope that it helps,” she said. “We just prayed constantly.”

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