The remains of an Army chaplain who was awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism as a prisoner of war during the Korean War and is now being considered for sainthood by the Catholic Church, have been found by the Defense Department’s POW/MIA accounting agency.
The Pentagon said Friday that the remains of Father Emil Kapaun were originally buried outside the prisoner camp in North Korea where he was held and later returned to the United States for analysis.
A military legend for his willingness to share the hardships of those in the ranks and in the North Korean war prison where he died, Kapaun’s remains apparently had rested among the 867 bodies buried as “Unknowns” at the Veterans Administration’s National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii before recently being positively identified.
In 1993, Pope John Paul II identified Father Kapaun as a “Servant of God,” the first step on the road to canonization in the Catholic church.
“It was a great joy to learn that the remains of the Servant of God, Father Emil Kapaun, have been identified. I am deeply grateful to the armed services and all those who have been engaged in this painstaking effort,” said Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the Washington-based Archdiocese for the Military Services.
Kapaun had been an Army chaplain during World War II and later returned to service in the Korean War. He was captured in November 1950 while tending to wounded soldiers during a battle near Unsan, North Korea.
“In the chaos — dodging bullets and explosions — Father Kapaun raced between foxholes and into no-man’s lands, dragging the wounded to safety,” President Obama said in 2013 during the Medal of Honor ceremony for the chaplain. “When the enemy broke through and the combat was hand-to-hand, he carried on comforting the injured and the dying.”
Kapaun remained behind with the wounded and dying soldiers after the commander ordered a withdrawal. When a Chinese soldier pointed a weapon at an injured U.S. soldier, he pushed the gun away and carried him for several miles until they reached the prison camp. During six months as a prisoner-of-war, Kapaun stole food from the captors to feed hungry prisoners and would sneak to different huts to offer prayers and words of encouragement. He even held an Easter service, although it was forbidden.
He eventually contracted dysentery and died in the camp hospital on May 23, 1951.
Calls for Kapaun to be awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest decoration for valor, began soon after his fellow POWs finally returned home.
“I worked to bestow Father Kapaun with the Medal of Honor in 2013 and I’m glad that his family has finally been granted closure after [his] selfless service to our nation,” said Sen. Jerry Moran, a Republican from Father Kapaun’s home state of Kansas.
Kapaun’s home diocese in Wichita, Kansas, has taken up the cause for his canonization in the Roman Catholic Church. It will entail a thorough investigation into his life and writings. After that, a report will be filed with the Congregation for Saints in Rome which will determine if he had lived the “theological, cardinal and related virtues to a heroic degree,” according to the diocese.
If he passes the first stage, Kapaun will receive the title “Venerable” as the Congregation for Saints in the Vatican presents his file to Pope Francis, who has the final say.
During the Medal of Honor ceremony in 2013, President Obama called Kapaun “an American soldier who didn’t fire a gun but who [carried] the mightiest weapon of all: the love for his brothers so powerful that he was willing to die so that they might live.”