WICHITA, Kan. — A former Kansas congressman, Todd Tiahrt, has indicated that Servant of God Father Emil Kapaun will be awarded the Medal of Honor later this year, prompting excitement from those who know of the U.S. Army chaplain’s heroic service in prison camps during the Korean War.
"Like everybody else, I think it’s great news; we’ve been waiting for some time,” said Father John Hotze, a priest from the Diocese of Wichita, Kan., who heads the Father Kapaun Guild.
“We’re thrilled he’s finally going to be awarded the Medal of Honor. I think most people would agree he’s been deserving that for some time,” said Father Hotze.
The Medal of Honor is the United States’ highest military award for bravery.
On Feb. 22, Tiahrt told the Wichita Eagle that he had received a note from a military officer in the Pentagon about preparations for a White House ceremony to be held April 11. The Pentagon will honor the Kansas priest on April 12.
Father Kapaun was born in Pilsen, Kan., and grew up on a farm. He was a parish priest before he joined the U.S. Army. He served as a chaplain with the Eighth Cavalry Regiment in North Korea, which was overrun by the Chinese army in late 1950.
The priest courageously rescued wounded soldiers from the battlefield, risking his own life to save them from execution by the Chinese. Later taken as a prisoner of war, he heroically worked to tend to the starving and sick in a camp that would reach subzero temperatures.
The priest’s service to his fellow prisoners has become legendary. Scores of men attribute their survival to his deeds.
He sneaked out at night to steal food from the prison guards to share with those who were starving, the Wichita Eagle reported. He picked lice off of sick prisoners and shaped roofing tin into cooking pots so the prisoners could boil water.The priest also encouraged the prisoners to endure despite their terrible conditions and despite the abuse he himself faced from prison guards.
Father Kapaun died in a prison camp hospital on May 23, 1951, two years before the end of the Korean conflict. Prison authorities denied him medical assistance for a blood clot in his leg.
The Catholic Church named the priest a Servant of God in 1993, an early step on the road to sainthood. At present, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints is considering two alleged miracles as it investigates whether he should be beatified.
Father Hotze said that the military chaplain exemplified hope and charity.
He instilled in fellow prisoners of war the hope “that they would return home and be reunited with their families.”
“His whole life was an act of charity ... both as a priest and as a chaplain,” Father Hotze said. “He was willing to give up his life for others.”
President Barack Obama is expected to present the Medal of Honor to Father Kapaun’s sister-in-law, Helen Kapaun, 83, and her children. He called Mrs. Kapaun in December to tell her about the honor. An official announcement is expected later this month.
Only 3,460 military service members have received the award since its introduction during the Civil War.