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Tiahrt: Language in Act could help Kapaun get Medal of Honor

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, May 27, 2010, at 10:46 a.m.
  • Updated Thursday, May 27, 2010, at 11:09 a.m.

Supporters of the effort to authorize a Medal of Honor for Father Emil Kapaun of Kansas got another boost this week.

The office of Congressman Todd Tiahrt, R-Goddard, said today that he has inserted language authorizing the medal into the National Defense Authorization Act, which Congress will debate later this year.

The authorizing language will waive the provisions of current law that requires the Medal of Honor to be awarded "within three years of the date of the act upon which the award is based." Kapaun's numerous heroic actions as a U.S. Army chaplain, described for the last 60 years by surviving fellow soldiers, took place in North Korea in 1950 and 1951.

The defense authorization act is moving through both chambers of Congress. The House Appropriations Committee might begin debate as early as this week, Tiahrt's office said.

Kapaun, a farmer's son and Catholic priest from Pilsen, Kan., died at the age of 35 in May 1951 in a North Korean prisoner of war camp.

Fellow soldiers in the Korean War said he saved hundreds of lives, on battlefields where he ran through gunfire to rescue the wounded, and then in prison camps where he stole food and rallied hundreds of starving, freezing survivors to resist enemy brainwashing and stay alive.

If Congress approves the language in the Act, the Department of Defense and the President would have to concur that Kapaun deserves the medal, Tiahrt's office has said.

"The national honor and recognition earned by Fr. Kapaun for his heroism is long overdue," Tiahrt said in a statement.

"We want the Kapaun family and the remaining survivors who personally knew Father Kapaun to have the privilege of knowing his acts of courage and valor were officially honored. I will continue working to ensure this authorization language gets signed into law, so this great American hero can be properly honored by a grateful nation. Anyone familiar with the life of Chaplain Kapaun knows we should not delay in awarding the Medal of Honor to him."

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