Fr. Emil Kapaun awarded Medal of Honor for Korean War heroism

The heroic and saintly actions of Emil Kapaun, a Catholic priest from rural Kansas, during the Korean War were truly remarkable. Today, President Obama presented the Medal of Honor to members of his family. The Wichita Eagle reports:

Emil Kapaun – who died in May 1951 in a North Korean prisoner of war camp – was honored for his actions Nov. 1 and 2, 1950, at the battle of Unsan, where his 8th Cavalry regiment was overrun by Chinese forces. He helped aid those wounded in battle with no regard for his own safety. Witnesses said Kapaun ran 200 to 300 yards outside a shrinking defensive perimeter to rescue wounded American soldiers despite fierce enemy fire.

Kapaun also stayed behind and let himself be captured by Chinese forces in order to care for wounded American soldiers. He was initially awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions, the Army’s second-highest military honor. That was upgraded to the Medal of Honor.

Some of those present for the ceremony served with Kapaun in combat or suffered with him in the prison camp, where the only things keeping them alive were handfuls of birdseed or stolen food, and the spiritual and emotional nourishment offered by the calm, humble chaplain from Kansas who openly defied their Communist captors. …

Obama talked about Kapaun’s strong faith, even as he was mocked and punished by the Communist prison guards for holding secret religious services.

“They took his clothes and made him stand in the freezing cold – for hours,” Obama said. “Yet he never lost his faith. If anything, it only grew stronger.

“At night he slipped into huts to lead prisoners in prayer, say the Rosary, administer the sacraments, or offer three simple words: God bless you.”

The Wichita Eagle (where, incidentally, I used to work) has produced remarkable work detailing the life and death of Emil Kapaun. Links to those stories, historic photos and the full text of today’s report are here.

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