Father Kapaun

Tiahrt's office: Kapaun may still receive medal

Staff members of Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Goddard, say there’s still a good chance that war hero Father Emil Kapaun will be awarded the Medal of Honor, but it looks like hopes are dimming for anything to happen this year.

Tiahrt earlier this year inserted language authorizing the medal into the National Defense Authorization Act. Tiahrt was hoping Congress would debate that bill this year, and it still might happen, said Tiahrt spokesman Sam Sackett.

The authorizing language will waive the provisions of current law that requires the Medal of Honor to be awarded “within three years of the date of the act upon which the award is based.”

Kapaun’s numerous heroic actions as a U.S. Army chaplain, described for the past 60 years by surviving fellow soldiers, took place in North Korea in 1950 and 1951.

Tiahrt was hoping the work could be done before he leaves office in January. He and his office did a lot of work to make the case to the military that Kapaun deserves the nation’s highest military award.

Kapaun, a farmer’s son and Catholic priest from Pilsen, died at the age of 35 in May 1951 in a North Korean prisoner of war camp.

Fellow soldiers in the Korean War said he saved hundreds of lives, on battlefields where he ran through gunfire to rescue the wounded, and then in prison camps where he stole food and rallied hundreds of starving, freezing survivors to resist enemy brainwashing to stay alive.

If Congress approves the language in the act, the Department of Defense and President Obama would have to concur that Kapaun deserves the medal, Tiahrt’s office has said.

Related stories from Wichita Eagle