WICHITA — The Kansas congressional delegation wrote Defense Secretary Leon Panetta a letter Friday urging him to recommend that Korean War hero Emil Kapaun be awarded the Medal of Honor.
Panetta’s recommendation to President Obama would be one of the last steps in the recommendation process; Kapaun has already been recommended for the honor by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“This is a good thing, and I hope it means it’ll be happening soon,” Helen Kapaun, Kapaun’s 82-year-old sister-in-law, said Friday.
U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran and U.S. Reps. Tim Huelskamp, Lynn Jenkins, Kevin Yoder and Mike Pompeo asked Panetta to honor Kapaun for heroism on Korean War battlefields, and in the North Korean prison camp he died in during 1951. Kapaun was a farm kid and priest from Pilsen.
“The next step in the process is for the Secretary of Defense to officially recommend that the President award Father Kapaun the Medal of Honor,” they wrote. “We respectfully ask for your support and further request that you convey your recommendation to award the Medal of Honor to Father Kapaun to the President in the near future.
“During the Korean War, Father Kapaun served as a chaplain of the 8th Cavalry Regiment of the First Army Division. Amidst the devastating Battle of Unsan, Kapaun pulled wounded soldiers to safety and attended to their injuries. He was taken prisoner along with other American soldiers and carried severely injured fellow soldiers on his back, while rallying others to help in a similar fashion. While in the prison camp he served his comrades by escaping to steal food from nearby farms to bring back to the starving prisoners. He cared for sick soldiers, washed them, shared his food with them, and inspired them with his unfailing faith and acts of generosity until his death in May 1951. Fellow soldiers who benefitted from or witnessed the many examples of Father Kapaun’s service shared the stories of his heroism after their release.”
Father John Hotze of the Wichita diocese has spent more than a decade researching Kapaun’s acts. He said today that there is nothing new yet in the Vatican’s investigation on whether Kapaun should be elevated to sainthood.
In the 61 years since Kapaun’s death, numerous fellow soldiers and prisoners of war have spoken out on his behalf, both in the extensive investigation for the Vatican by Hotze, and for the military’s review of his service for the Medal of Honor application.
The prisoners told investigators from the Army and Vatican that Kapaun repeatedly risked his life to rescue wounded soldiers in battle, and then again in prison camps where he stole food from camp guards, gave his own meager rations to starving prisoners, and defied Communist guards who tried to coerce prisoners into betraying their country.
Kapaun was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross shortly after the war ended. He has been classified a Servant of God by the Vatican, the first step in the process to sainthood.