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Letter another step to sainthood for Kapaun

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, March 15, 2012, at 10:13 a.m.
  • Updated Saturday, July 27, 2013, at 9:31 a.m.

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The Department of Defense has answered a letter written by members of the Kansas Congressional delegation that urged the department to speed along the application to award the Medal of Honor to Kansas army chaplain Father Emil Kapaun.

Jo Ann Rooney, an undersecretary of defense, told Sen. Pat Roberts in her letter that the department supported recent legislation that enabled Kapaun’s consideration for the honor. That legislation waived certain time restrictions on awarding anyone the medal for actions that took place decades ago; Kapaun’s actions took place in the Korean War.

Rooney didn’t say what the next step would be, but wrote that the waiver legislation, passed last year as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, gives the U.S. president the authority now to award that medal to Kapaun “should the president determine (the) award is merited.”

“The Medal of Honor nomination for Chaplain (Captain) Kapaun is being considered in the same manner that all other Medal of Honor nominations are considered,” Rooney wrote.

A Roberts representative made Rooney’s letter available today with the comment that this is “another tiny step forward” to awarding the medal to Kapaun.

In other Kapaun news, Bishop Michael Jackels visited Rome last week and conferred with the Vatican cardinal in charge of the Vatican group that will determine whether to recommend that the pope elevate Kapaun to sainthood.

Father John Hotze, who has led the investigation of Kapaun’s eligibility for sainthood for the Wichita diocese for more than a decade, said one thing the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints will want to know is whether Kapaun has a following.

“They don’t really want to name someone as a saint if no one knows who he is,” Hotze said.

So Jackels, on a recent visit to Rome, gave a letter to Cardinal Angelo Amato, the head of the congregation, outlining the enormous following Kapaun has had since his death in 1951, among lay people in Kansas as well as his numerous fellow American prisoners of war in Korea who have lauded his heroism.

It also noted extensive coverage in the media. That coverage has included everything from local Kansas media to the BBC in Britain.

“Bishop Jackels said the Cardinal was impressed,” Hotze said.

Kapaun was a Kansas farmer’s son who grew up to be a Catholic priest in his hometown of Pilsen, and then a U.S. Army chaplain.

During the Korean War, according to fellow soldiers, he repeatedly saved lives, first on several battlefields, where he recklessly risked his life to drag wounded soldiers to safety, and later in a North Korean prison camp, where they say he saved hundreds of lives.

Soldiers said he made pans for sanitizing water, gave away his meager rations to starving soldiers, and inspired hundreds of starving soldiers to rally, not only to stay alive but to defy Communist captors who tried to force soldiers to betray their country.

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