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. On April 11, 2013, President Barack Obama presented the Medal of Honor posthumously to Captain Chaplain Kapaun for his actions on November 1–2, 1950 in Korea. He is the ninth American military chaplain Medal of Honor recipient.
There are currently two possible miracles being investigated as part of the cause for Fr. Kapaun’s sainthood. He is also being considered for designation as a martyr. It’s the sacrifice made by men like Father Emil Kapaun that causes many living veterans to get upset when many mistakenly treat Memorial Day as if it is the same as Veterans Day.
From his Medal of Honor citation:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:
Chaplain Emil J. Kapaun distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the 3d Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy at Unsan, Korea, from November 1-2, 1950. On November 1, as Chinese Communist Forces viciously attacked friendly elements, Chaplain Kapaun calmly walked through withering enemy fire in order to provide comfort and medical aid to his comrades and rescue friendly wounded from no-man’s land. Though the Americans successfully repelled the assault, they found themselves surrounded by the enemy. Facing annihilation, the able-bodied men were ordered to evacuate. However, Chaplain Kapaun, fully aware of his certain capture, elected to stay behind with the wounded. After the enemy succeeded in breaking through the defense in the early morning hours of November 2, Chaplain Kapaun continually made rounds, as hand-to-hand combat ensued. As Chinese Communist Forces approached the American position, Chaplain Kapaun noticed an injured Chinese officer amongst the wounded and convinced him to negotiate the safe surrender of the American Forces. Shortly after his capture, Chaplain Kapaun, with complete disregard for his personal safety and unwavering resolve, bravely pushed aside an enemy soldier preparing to execute Sergeant First Class Herbert A. Miller. Not only did Chaplain Kapaun’s gallantry save the life of Sergeant Miller, but also his unparalleled courage and leadership inspired all those present, including those who might have otherwise fled in panic, to remain and fight the enemy until captured. Chaplain Kapaun’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness, above and beyond the call of duty, are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the 3d Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, the 1st Cavalry Division, and the United States Army.
From an Army narrative, here are details of his time as a prisoner of war:
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.
Kapaun’s military awards:
Medal of Honor (upgraded from Distinguished Service Cross)
Legion of Merit
Bronze Star Medal with “V” Device
Prisoner of War Medal
American Campaign Medal
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with Bronze Service Star
World War II Victory Medal
Army of Occupation Medal with Japan Clasp
National Defense Service Medal
Korean Service Medal with two Bronze Service Stars
Combat Infantryman Badge
Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation
United Nations Korea Medal
Republic of Korea War Service Medal
Watch a trailer for a documentary about Fr. Kapaun below:
Father Emil Kapaun gave
glory to God by following
his call to the priesthood and
thus serving the people of Kansas
and those in the military.
Father Kapaun, I ask your
intercession not only for these needs
which I mention now. . .but that I
too may follow your example of
service to God and my neighbor.
For the gifts of courage in battle
and perseverance of faith,
we give you thanks O Lord.
Recite one Our Father, one Hail Mary,
and one Glory Be.
Quinton is a native South Carolinian who has lived in Baltimore since 2006. He is a recent convert to the Catholic Church and is active in the Knights of Columbus. He has been involved in the pro-life movement nationally and locally since 2010.
Quinton is a veteran who served as an intelligence analyst in the Army National Guard. He is also an Eagle Scout.