WICHITA — Eugene Kapaun, the brother of Korean War hero Fr. Emil Kapaun, died today. He was 86.
Eugene Kapaun has spent the last 57 years of his life helping the Catholic Church and the U.S. Army sort out 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 Fr. 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 today.
"I told him, 'Don't worry. Our boys will take care of that.' "
The couple, married nearly 62 years, have six surviving children, three of them sons.
Emil and Eugene Kapaun were farm boys born near Pilsen, about an hour north of Wichita.
Emil became a Catholic priest and then a U.S. Army chaplain, serving in World War II and in the Korean conflict. He served heroically in several battlefields of 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 many lives of 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 Fr. 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 limitation for awarding the Medal 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 Fr. John Hotze, who is heading the diocese effort.
Eugene Kapaun 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.