Chaplain (Capt.) Emil J. Kapaun served with distinction during the Korean War. Beyond saying Mass for troops behind the line, Father Kapaun went above and beyond the call of duty to serve his soldiers. When their position was overrun, Kapaun pushed aside a Chinese soldier preparing to execute an American. With complete disregard for his own safety, Kapaun saved his fellow soldier and carried him on his back. In captivity, Kapaun continued to care for his soldiers by saying Mass, stealing extra food and literally giving them the clothes off of his back during the freezing Korean winter. On May 23, 1951, he died in captivity of malnutrition and pneumonia.
In 1953, as part of the Korean Armistice Agreement, 1,868 unidentified American remains were brought to Hawaii for burial. In 1993, Pope John Paul II declared Kapaun a Servant of God, the first step on the path to canonization. Twenty years later, Kapaun was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in Korea, becoming the ninth military chaplain to receive the honor. On March 2, 2021, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency was able to positively identify Kapaun’s remains. Seventy years, after his death, the Kansas native could return home.
In September 2021, Kapaun’s body was flown to Wichita’s Dwight Eisenhower International Airport where he was welcomed with honors. Overseeing the honorable transfer of the body were Carl Kemme, Bishop of Wichita, and F. Richard Spencer of the Archdiocese for the Military Services. Kapaun’s body returned to his hometown on September 25, escorted by motorcade and an honor guard from the 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley, Kansas.
On the evening of September 28, a public funeral vigil was held for Kapaun. It was broadcasted on TV and livestreamed on YouTube for thousands to watch. The next day, thousands more gathered to pay their respects to Kapaun during his Mass of Christian Burial at Hartman Arena in Wichita. Following the Mass, Kapaun’s remains were carried by a horse-drawn caisson procession from Veterans Memorial Park to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Wichita. There, Kapaun was laid to rest in a 5,400 lb. tomb. His welcome home is the result of a promise kept by a grateful nation made to all POWs/MIAs: You are not forgotten.
Feature Image: U.S. Army Chaplain Corps