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Emil Kapaun
Captain Chaplain Emil Joseph Kapaun
Birth name Emil Joseph Kapaun
Born (1916-04-20)April 20, 1916
Died May 23, 1951(1951-05-23) (aged 35)
Place of birth Pilsen, Kansas
Place of death Pyoktong, North Korea
Allegiance United States
Service/branch Seal of the US Department of the Army.svg United States Army
Years of service 1944–1946[1]
Rank US-O3 insignia.svg Captain
Unit 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry[2]

World War II

Korean War

Awards Medal of Honor
Distinguished Service Cross
Legion of Merit
Bronze Star Medal with V (Valor) Device

Emil Joseph Kapaun (April 20, 1916 – May 23, 1951) was a Roman Catholic priest and United States Army chaplain who died as a prisoner of war in the Korean War. For his wartime activities, the Roman Catholic Church has declared him a Servant of God, the first stage on the path to sainthood, and on April 11, 2013, President Barack Obama awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously to Captain Chaplain Kapaun.

Early life

Emil Joseph Kapaun was born on April 20, 1916, and grew up on a farm three miles southwest of Pilsen, Kansas.[3][4] His parents were Enos and Elizabeth Kapaun, Czech immigrants.[5]

He graduated from Pilsen High School in May 1930.[6] Kapaun graduated from Conception Abbey seminary college in Conception, Missouri, in June 1936. He then attended Kenrick Theological Seminary (now Kenrick-Glennon Seminary), St. Louis, Missouri.

On June 9, 1940, Kapaun was ordained a priest at what is now Newman University in Wichita, Kansas.[4] He celebrated his first Mass at St. John Nepomucene in Pilsen, Kansas. In 1943, Kapaun was appointed auxiliary chaplain at the Herington Army Airfield near Herington, Kansas.[4] In December 1943, Kapaun was appointed pastor to replace Fr. Sklenar who had retired. After serving in the Pilsen area under the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wichita, Kapaun joined the army in July 1944.

U.S. Army service

Kapaun began his military chaplaincy at Camp Wheeler, Georgia, in October 1944. He and one other chaplain ministered to approximately 19,000 service men and women.[6]

He was sent to India and served in the Burma Theater.[4] Kapaun was promoted to captain in January 1946[4] and returned stateside in May 1946.

Kapaun was discharged in 1946. He earned a Master of Arts degree in education at the The Catholic University of America in 1948.

In September 1948, he re-joined the Army and resumed his chaplaincy at Fort Bliss, El Paso, Texas. Kapaun left his parents and Pilsen for the last time in December 1949.[4]

In January 1950, he was stationed near Mount Fuji, Japan, as a military chaplain. In July, Kapaun was ordered to Korea, a month after North Korea had invaded South Korea.[6] Kapaun's unit, the 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, from Fort Bliss, participated in the fighting on the Pusan perimeter. From there, he was constantly on the move northward. His main complaint was lack of sleep for several weeks at a time.[6] He constantly ministered to the dead and dying while performing baptisms, hearing first confessions, offering Holy Communion and celebrating Mass from an improvised altar set up on the front end of a jeep. He constantly would lose his Mass kit, jeep and trailer to enemy fire. He told how he was thoroughly convinced that the prayers of many others were what had saved him so many times. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal in September.[6]

Father Emil Kapaun celebrating Mass using the hood of a jeep as his altar, October 7, 1950

He was captured near Unsan, North Korea, in November 1950.[7][8] He and other prisoners of war (POWs) were marched 87 miles (140 km) to a prison camp near Pyoktong, North Korea.[9] Kapaun was able to persuade some prisoners, who had ignored orders from officers, to carry the wounded.[9] At the camp, he dug latrines, mediated disputes, gave away his own food, and raised morale among the prisoners.[10] He was noted among his fellow POWs as one who would steal coffee and tea (and a pot to heat them in) from the Communist guards. He also led prisoners in acts of defiance and smuggled dysentery drugs to the doctor, Sidney Esensten.[11]

Kapaun developed a blood clot in his leg, dysentery, and pneumonia.[12] Weakened as the months passed, he managed to lead Easter sunrise service on Sunday, March 25, 1951. He was so weak that the prison guards took him to the hospital, where he died of pneumonia on May 23, 1951. He was buried in a mass grave near the Yalu River.[6]

He was played by James Whitmore in the Crossroads TV episode "The Good Thief", which aired on November 25, 1955.[13]

Awards and decorations

Kapaun received the following awards:[14]

(ribbon bar, as it would look today)

Bluebird-colored ribbon with five white stars in the form of an "M".
Width-44 crimson ribbon with a pair of width-2 white stripes on the edges
Width-44 scarlet ribbon with width-4 ultramarine blue stripe at center, surrounded by width-1 white stripes. Width-1 white stripes are at the edges.

Bronze star
Width-44 yellow ribbon with central width-4 Old Glory blue-white-scarlet stripe. At distance 6 from the edges are width-6 white-scarlet-white stripes.

Bronze star
Bronze star
Width=44 scarlet ribbon with a central width-4 golden yellow stripe, flanked by pairs of width-1 scarlet, white, Old Glory blue, and white stripes

Medal of honor

Cmoh army.jpg

In 2001, U.S. Representative Todd Tiahrt began a campaign to award the Medal of Honor to Kapaun.[17] Before leaving office on September 16, 2009, Secretary of the Army Pete Geren sent Tiahrt a letter, agreeing that Kapaun was worthy of the honor. Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also agreed.

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 (Senate Bill 1867, Section 586) contains an authorization and a request to the President to award the Medal of Honor to Kapaun posthumously for acts of valor during the Battle of Unsan on November 1 and 2, 1950, and while a prisoner of war until his death on May 23, 1951.[18] President Obama presented the medal to Kapaun's nephew at the White House on April 11, 2013.[19]

His Medal of Honor citation reads:

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, 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.
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.[20]

Possible canonization

The following is a general narrative from the many reports of Kapaun's ordeal as a prisoner of war given by many repatriated American soldiers after their release from prison camps. He was most remembered for his great humility, bravery, his constancy, his love and kindness and solicitude for his fellow prisoners. "He was their hero... their admired and beloved "padre." He kept up the G.I.'s morale, and most of all, allowed a lot of men to become good Catholics."[6]

Reports received noted that Kapaun's feet had become badly frozen, but that he continued to administer to the sick and wounded. He continuously went out under heavy mortar and shelling to rescue wounded and dying soldiers at personal risk of being captured or killed.[6]

Many accounts have been given of the many creature comforts he provided his comrades of the 8th Cavalry Regiment during imprisonment. They were both spiritual and physical. He provided endless hours of prayer and what nourishment he could find to all he could to keep them from starving to death.[6]

A detailed account of Kapaun's life is recounted in Fr. Arthur Tonne's Chaplain Kapaun: Patriot Priest of the Korean Conflict:

In a very definite sense, we are all beneficiaries from the life of Fr. Kapaun. He has left us a stirring example of devotion to duty. He has passed on to us a spirit of tolerance and understanding. He has given us a share of dauntless bravery – of body and soul. He has transmitted to every one of us a new appreciation of America, and a keener, more realistic understanding of our country's greatest enemy – godlessness, now stalking the world in the form of communism. He has bequeathed a picture of Christ-like life. What Fr. Kapaun willed to us cannot be contained in memorials, however costly or beautiful. It is a treasure for the human soul – the spirit of one who loved and served God and man – even unto death.

When Kapaun was assigned to the Eighth Cavalry regiment – which was surrounded and overrun by the Chinese army in North Korea in October and November 1950 – he stayed behind with the wounded when the Army retreated. He allowed his own capture, then risked death by preventing Chinese executions of wounded Americans too injured to walk.[21]

In 1993, Kapaun was named a Servant of God by the Roman Catholic Church, the first step toward possible canonization.[4] Also, the Vatican is now examining whether a medical healing that took place in Sedgwick County, Kansas, can be considered a miracle.[4]

Possible 2008 miracle

On June 29, 2008, the Opening Ceremony which officially opens the Cause for Sainthood for Kapaun was made on Father Kapaun Day held at St. John Nepomucene Catholic Church in Pilsen, Kansas.[22]

On June 26, 2009, Dr. Andrea Ambrosi, the Roman Postulator for Kapaun's cause for canonization arrived in Wichita in order to interview doctors in relation to alleged miraculous events.

Among these is the claim of 20-year-old Chase Kear who survived a severe head injury last year in part, he and his family claim, because they petitioned Fr. Emil Kapaun to intercede for them.[7][23] Kear, a member of the Hutchinson Community College track team, fell on his head during pole vaulting practice in October 2008, but, it is said, was miraculously healed despite being near death.[23] The Rev. John Hotze, the judicial vicar for the Diocese of Wichita, and trained in Canon Law, will assist in investigating Kear's case.[4]

Fr. Hotze has spent eight years investigating the proposed sainthood of Kapaun. The Catholic Church has considered canonizing Kapaun ever since soldiers were liberated from Korean prisoner-of-war camps in 1953 and told of Kapaun's heroism and faith.[24] The Wichita diocese has continue to receive reports of miracles involving Fr. Kapaun. He is being considered for possible designation as a martyr.[23]

Possible 2011 miracle

On May 7, 2011, Nick Dellasega collapsed at a Get Busy Living 5K race in Pittsburg, KS (honoring the memory of Dylan Meier). Due to a series of coincidences, Dellasega survived, even though he had seemingly died on the scene. His childhood friend, EMT Micah Ehling, is quoted by The Wichita Eagle as saying "I know what a face looks like when the soul leaves the body. And that's what Nick looked like".[25] Some bystanders attribute Dellasega's survival to the devotion of his cousin, Jonah Dellasega, who fell to his knees at the scene and prayed to Kapaun. In a strange coincidence not reported by The Eagle, Dylan Meier, in whose memory the 5K was being held, was slated to teach English in Korea at the time of his death.[26]

Skeptics point out that Kapaun's spirit could not possibly have orchestrated the bizarre coincidences that saved Nick's life because some of them were set in motion long before Nick collapsed (including a visit by Nick's uncle, Mark, a medical doctor from Greenville, N.C.). However, believers insist Kapaun intervened to save Dellasega's life. The Eagle reported, "The coincidences are strange enough and the prayer notable enough that a Catholic church investigator has reported Nick's story to the Vatican, which happens to have a representative in Wichita again, sizing up Father Emil Kapaun for sainthood."[25]


  • Kapaun Memorial Chapel, Seoul, South Korea; dedicated November 4, 1953.
  • Kapaun Chapel, Camp McGovern, Bosnia; dedicated 1998.
  • Kapaun Religious Retreat House, Ōiso, Japan; dedicated December 1954.
  • Kapaun Barracks and Chapel, United States Military Base, Kaiserslautern, Germany; dedicated June 7, 1955.[27]
  • Father Kapaun Memorial Technical School, Kwanju, Korea; dedicated Summer 1955.
  • Chaplain Kapaun Memorial High School, Wichita, Kansas; dedicated May 12, 1957. Later to become Kapaun Mt. Carmel High School, 1971.
  • Honolulu Memorial; dedicated 1964[28]
  • Bronze Door Panel, Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Wichita, Kansas; dedicated February 1997.
  • Knights of Columbus Council 11987[29][30][31]
  • Chaplain Kapaun Korean War Memorial Site, Pilsen, Kansas; dedicated June 3, 2001.
  • Chaplain Kapaun Complex, Fort Riley, Kansas; dedicated 2001, 2002.
  • Emil Kapaun Knights of Columbus Fourth Degree Assembly, Katy, Texas.
  • Knights of Columbus Council 3744[32]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Latham Jr., LTC William C. (2012). "Father Emil Kapaun". Association of the United States Army. pp. 38–43. Retrieved 8 March 2013. 
  2. Roy Wenzl (29 July 2011). "Father Emil Kapaun: Through Death March, Father Kapaun perseveres and inspires". Retrieved 10 March 2013. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Nasaw, Daniel (April 16, 2012). "Recognition finally for a warrior priest's heroics". BBC News. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 Wenzl, Roy (December 6, 2009). "The Miracle of Father Kapaun". The Wichita Eagle. Retrieved 2010-01-24. 
  5. Wenzl, Roy (December 13, 2009). "Part 8: The Miracle of Father Kapaun. Father Emil Kapaun: Former POWs say his miracle was providing them hope". The Wichita Eagle. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 6.8 "Father emil joseph kapaun". Knights of Columbus. Archived from the original on September 26, 2010. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Wenzl, Roy (December 6, 2009). "Part 1: The Miracle of Father Kapaun. Father Emil Kapaun: In Korea, Kapaun saves dozens during Chinese attack". The Wichita Eagle. 
  8. Wenzl, Roy (December 7, 2009). "Part 2: The Miracle of Father Kapaun. Father Emil Kapaun: Through Death March, Father Kapaun perseveres and inspires". The Wichita Eagle. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 Wenzl, Roy (December 8, 2009). "Part 3: The Miracle of Father Kapaun. Father Emil Kapaun: In icy POW camps, Kapaun shares faith, provisions". The Wichita Eagle. 
  10. Wenzl, Roy (December 9, 2009). "Part 4: The Miracle of Father Kapaun. Father Emil Kapaun: As hundreds die, Kapaun rallies the POWs". The Wichita Eagle. 
  11. Wenzl, Roy (December 10, 2009). "Part 5: The Miracle of Father Kapaun. Father Emil Kapaun: Leads camp prisoners in quiet acts of defiance". The Wichita Eagle. 
  12. Wenzl, Roy (December 11, 2009). "Part 6: The Miracle of Father Kapaun. Father Emil Kapaun forgives guards, welcomes death". The Wichita Eagle. 
  13. "Crossroads: The Good Thief". Classic Television. Internet Archive. Retrieved 10 June 2013. 
  14. "Biography for Chaplain (Capt.) Emil Kapaun". News Archive. United States Army. 8 March 2013. Retrieved 12 April 2013. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 "Emil Joseph Kapaun". Military Times Hall of Valor. Gannett Government Media Corporation. Retrieved 10 March 2013. 
  16. FM 7-21.13 The Soldier's Guide: The Complete Guide to U.s. Army Traditions, Training, Duties, and Responsibilities. Skyhorse Publishing Inc.. 2007. pp. 2–46. ISBN 9781602391642. Retrieved 10 March 2013. 
    Jennifer H. Svan (15 October 2009). "Beloved chaplain recommended for Medal of Honor". Retrieved 10 March 2013. 
  17. Roy Wenzl (2 October 2009). "Army: Kapaun worthy of Medal of Honor". Retrieved 10 March 2013. 
    John Milburn (13 October 2009). "Army says Kansas Army chaplain Rev. Kapaun worthy of Medal of Honor for service in Korean War". Retrieved 10 March 2013. 
  18. "SEC. 586. AUTHORIZATION AND REQUEST FOR AWARD OF MEDAL OF HONOR TO EMIL KAPAUN FOR ACTS OF VALOR DURING THE KOREAN WAR.". National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2012 (Senate Bill 1867). Library of Congress. Retrieved 25 December 2011. 
  19. Meghann Myers (11 April 2013). "‘Quiet hero' Kapaun receives posthumous Medal of Honor". Retrieved 12 April 2013. 
    Barbara Goldberg; Ellen Wulfhorst (12 April 2013). "Medal of Honor for Korean War chaplain who aided fellow POWs". Retrieved 12 April 2013. 
  20. "Medal of Honor Recipient Chaplain (Capt.) Emil J. Kapaun". United States Army. Retrieved 2013-04-12. 
  21. Wenzl, Roy (30 June 2009). "Vatican finds evidence of miracle in Kansas case". Archived from the original on 3 July 2009. Retrieved 11 April 2013. 
  22. "Father Kapaun". Retrieved 11 April 2013. 
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 "Vatican sends investigator for Kapaun sainthood". June 22, 2009. Archived from the original on July 24, 2011. 
  24. Wenzl, Roy (December 12, 2009). "Part 7: The Miracle of Father Kapaun. Father Emil Kapaun: POWs call him 'a hero and a saint'". The Wichita Eagle. 
  25. 25.0 25.1 Wenzl, Roy. "Kansas man's recovery credited to Kapaun". The Wichita Eagle. Retrieved 11 April 2013. 
  26. "Dylan Meier dies in hiking accident". Pittsburg, KS Morning Sun. 19 April 2010. Retrieved 11 April 2013. 
  27. "Kaiserslautern Military Community hosts memorial to Father Emil Kapaun to be awarded Medal of Honor | Article | The United States Army". Retrieved 2013-06-11. 
  28. Duane A. Vachon, PhD (3 March 2012). "Saint Dismas, The Good Thief – Father Emil Kapaun". Retrieved 10 March 2013. 
  29. "Knights of Columbus Fr Emil J. Kapaun Council in Germany, 11987". Retrieved 2013-06-11. 
  30. "Knights of Columbus :: Holy Family Catholic Community (Ramstein, Germany)". Retrieved 2013-06-11. 
  31. "Military Councils | Knights of Columbus". Retrieved 2013-06-11. 
  32. "Find Council". 2013-05-27. Retrieved 2013-06-11. 

Further reading

  • The Miracle of Father Kapaun: Priest, Soldier and Korean War Hero; Wenzl and Heying; Ignatius Press; 200 pages; 2013; ISBN 978-1586177799.
  • A Saint Among Us: Remembering Father Emil J. Kapaun; Father Kapaun Guild; 168 pages; 2005; ISBN 978-0976846604.
  • A Shepherd in Combat Boots: Chaplain Emil Kapaun of the 1st Cavalry Division; William Maher; Burd Street Press; 199 pages; 1997; ISBN 978-1572493056.
  • The story of Chaplain Kapaun: Patriot priest of the Korean conflict; Arthur Tonne; Didde Publishers; 255 pages; 1954; ISBN 978-0974068107.

External links

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