It’s wonderful news that Emil Kapaun will be awarded the Medal of Honor by President Obama in a White House ceremony in April. The priest from Pilsen who died in a North Korean prisoner of war camp well-deserves the nation’s highest military award for bravery.
Kapaun showed extraordinary courage during the war, running through machine-gun fire to drag wounded soldiers to safety. And after he was captured, the Army chaplain defied sadistic guards to care for his fellow soldiers and help them survive subzero temperatures and inhumane treatment.
In May 1951, the frustrated guards isolated the starving and enfeebled Kapaun so he had no way of getting water or food. He died soon after.
“When I heard he had passed on, I knew it was a great loss, not only to the Catholics in our camp but the non-Catholics,” said William Funchess, a fellow soldier in the camp. “All of us loved Father Kapaun.”
Those surviving soldiers contributed seed money to start Kapaun Mount Carmel High School in Wichita. They also helped lead a decades-long campaign for Kapaun to be recognized for his bravery and as a Catholic saint.
Members of Congress, including former Kansas Rep. Todd Tiahrt, were instrumental in changing laws to allow Kapaun to receive the Medal of Honor and in lobbying the Pentagon and White House. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, and Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., stressed the need to honor Kapaun while the soldiers and former prisoners of war were still alive and able to travel to Washington, D.C., for the ceremony.
The Wichita Catholic Diocese also helped tell Kapaun’s story, as did the newspaper articles, book and documentary by Eagle journalists Roy Wenzl and Travis Heying (see Kansas.com/kapaun).
Though many people were involved in helping Kapaun receive this honor, it was Kapaun’s courage, faith, love and sacrifice that earned it.