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Kapaun considered for Medal of Honor

Congressman Mike Pompeo testified April 14, asking Congress to waive the time limitation and award the Medal of Honor to Father Emil Kapaun.

Recommendations must be submitted within two years of the action. In this case, Kapaun’s heroic actions took place in 1950 and 1951, when the Catholic priest was a chaplain in the Korean Conflict.

In Pompeo’s testimony, he read the official report: “Chaplain Kapaun repeatedly risked his own life to save hundreds of fellow Americans. His extraordinary courage and leadership inspired thousands of prisoners to survive hellish conditions and resist Chinese indoctrination. His actions reflect great credit upon himself, the 1st Cavalry Division, and the United States Army.”

Because of Kapaun’s extraordinary efforts, the Army posthumously awarded him the Distinguished Service Cross on Aug. 18, 1951.

The decorated Army chaplain is a candidate for sainthood by the Catholic church.

Born in Pilsen, Kapaun graduated from Pilsen High School, attended Conception Abbey Seminary and Kenrick Theological Seminary in Missouri. In 1940, he was ordained in Wichita. Originally an auxiliary chaplain at Herington Army Airfield at the beginning of World War II, Kapaun began serving full-time in the military chaplaincy in 1944 and was stationed in India until the war ended. He returned to the U.S., was discharged, and returned to religious studies.

In September 1948, Kapaun re-enlisted in the Army. Shortly after the 1950 invasion by North Korea into South Korean, Kapaun entered the Korean battlefield with his unit, the 3rd Battalion of the 8th Cavalry Regiment, of the 1st Cavalry Division.

Following the regiment’s withdrawal Nov. 1 and 2, 1950, at the Battle of Unsan, the Chinese Army encircled the battalion.

Although the Americans successfully repelled the enemy assault, they found themselves defending a small perimeter, entirely surrounded by enemy troops. Despite continuing enemy fire, Kapaun spent the day rescuing friendly wounded from the no-man’s land outside the battalion perimeter.

Though able-bodied men were ordered to escape, Kapaun decided to stay behind with the wounded. As he cared for his men, he noticed a wounded Chinese officer among the group. As Chinese infantry approached the American position, Kapaun convinced the officer to negotiate the safe surrender of the American forces.

After being captured, Kapaun continued to stoically encourage and support his men. As they marched to a prison camp, Kapaun noticed a Chinese officer preparing to execute a wounded American Staff Sergeant. Kapaun pushed the Chinese soldier aside and hoisted the American to his feet, assisting him for the next several days as the prisoners marched north to Pyoktong.

The prisoners were in a weakened state as they were forced to march to different camps. Kapaun encouraged his men, led by example, and refused to take a break from carrying stretchers for the wounded. He further risked his life by sneaking out after dark to forage for food and steal rations from guards, which he distributed among the prisoners.

Prisoners began to die because of their weakened and malnourished state. Eventually, captivity began to take its toll on Kapaun. A large blood clot formed in his leg. The Chinese, wary of Kapaun’s influence over the other prisoners, refused to provide medical aid. Though he recovered from the blood clot, he became ill with pneumonia shortly thereafter. He was transferred to a hospital, where he later died.

Kapaun would have turned 95 years old April 20.

The Department of Defense officially supports the Medal of Honor for Kapaun.

There is no word when the House Armed Services Committee will move forward with the request.

Last modified April 28, 2011

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