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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Eugene Kapaun sought honors for his brother

BY ROY WENZL
The Wichita Eagle

Eugene Kapaun, the brother of Korean War hero Fr. Emil Kapaun, died Monday. He was 86.

Eugene Kapaun has spent the past 57 years of his life helping the Catholic Church and the U.S. Army determine whether his brother should be made a saint and a recipient of the Medal of Honor.

The Vatican is still investigating his sainthood, and the secretary of the Army and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are recommending Emil Kapaun for the nation's highest military honor.

In recent weeks, as Eugene Kapaun's health declined, he repeatedly worried "about going to go get that Medal of Honor for Emil," his wife, Helen, said Monday.

"I told him, 'Don't worry. Our boys will take care of that.' "

The couple, married nearly 62 years, has six surviving children, three of them sons.

Emil and Eugene Kapaun were farm boys born near Pilsen, about an hour north of Wichita. Emil was about eight years older.

Emil became a Catholic priest and then a U.S. Army chaplain, serving in World War II and in the Korean War. He served heroically on several battlefields in the Korean War, and was captured, along with many of his Army friends, during a battle in 1950.

He died in a prison camp, saving the lives of many fellow POWs and urging them to resist brainwashing attempts by Communist prison guards.

Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Goddard, is still asking Congress and the Pentagon to clear the way for Emil Kapaun to be given the medal. That effort is still under way, said Sam Sackett, a spokesman for Tiahrt.

Because of a three-year statute of limitations for awarding the Medal of Honor from the time the heroic acts were committed, Congress has to authorize an exception, Sackett said. Tiahrt inserted language accomplishing that into the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act earlier this year, but the Senate has not yet acted.

Meanwhile, the Diocese of Wichita continues to gather and organize information about Emil Kapaun's service, information that will eventually be passed along to investigators studying Kapaun's heroics for the Vatican, said the Rev. John Hotze, who is heading the diocese's effort.

Eugene Kapaun, of Bel Aire, spent many years working at what is now Kapaun Mount Carmel High School, the private school named after his brother.

He died after years of struggling against Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and ailments afflicting his heart and colon, Helen Kapaun said.

Funeral arrangements are pending, she said.

Reach Roy Wenzl at 316-268-6219 or rwenzl@wichitaeagle.com.

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