Emil Joseph Kapaun (April 20, 1916 – May 23, 1951) was a Roman Catholic priest and United States Army chaplain who died in the Korean War. The Roman Catholic Church has declared him a Servant of God and he is a candidate for sainthood.
On June 9, 1940, Kapaun was ordained a priest and celebrated his first Mass at St. John Nepomucene in Pilsen, Kansas.
Fr. Kapaun began his military chaplaincy at Camp Wheeler, Georgia, in October 1944. He and one other chaplain ministered to approximately 19,000 servicemen.
Fr. Kapaun was promoted to Captain in January 1946and returned stateside in May 1946. Fr. Kapaun was discharged in 1946 and went to the Catholic University of Washington where in 1948 he earned an M.A. in education.
In September 1948, he re-joined the Army and resumed his chaplaincy at Fort Bliss, El Paso, Texas.
In January 1950 he was stationed near Mt. Fuji, Japan as a military chaplain until alerted into combat in July 1950. In that month, Fr. Kapaun was ordered to Korea from Japan, a month after North Korea invaded South Korea. Kapaun’s unit, the 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, from Ft. Bliss landed in South Korea and participated in the fighting on the Pusan perimeter. From there, he was constantly on the move northward until his capture by Chinese Communists in November 1950.
He constantly ministered to the dead and dying while performing baptisms, hearing first Confessions, offering Holy Communion and celebrating Mass from an improvised altar set up on the front end of an army jeep. He constantly would lose his Mass kit, jeep and trailer to enemy fire. He told how he was thoroughly convinced that the prayers of many others were what had saved him so many times up until his capture. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal in September 1950 just before his capture.
He was captured near Unsan, North Korea. The POWs marched for 87 miles to a prison camp near Pyoktong, North Korea. Fr. Kapaun was able to influence some prisoners, who were ignoring orders from officers, to carry the wounded. At the camp, he dug latrines, mediated disputes, gave away his own food, and raised morale among the prisoners.He also led prisoners in acts of defiance and smuggled dysentery drugs to the doctor, Sidney Esensten. Fr. Kapaun developed a blood clot in his leg, dysentery, and pneumonia. He died on May 23, 1951 at the prison camp in Pyoktong.
He was buried in a mass grave near the Yalu River. He was noted among his fellow POWs as one who would steal coffee and tea (and a pot to heat them in) from the Communist guards. On August 18, 1951, Chaplain (Capt.) Kapaun was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions at Unsan.
In February 2013, Tiahrt said he was informed by The Pentagon that Chaplain (Capt.) Kapaun will be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in April 2013.President Obama presented the medal to Kapaun’s nephew at The White House on 11 April 2013.
In 1993, Fr. Kapaun was named Servant of God by the Roman Catholic Church, the first step toward possible canonization. Also, the Vatican is now examining whether a medical healing that took place in Sedgwick County, Kansas, can be considered a miracle by the Roman Catholic Church.
A website is Dedicated to the Cause of Sainthood for
Father Emil J. Kapaun