President Barack Obama will present the Medal of Honor this afternoon to the relatives of Captain Emil Kapaun for his valor during the Korean War. Kapaun, a Roman Catholic priest, was serving as a chaplain with the 1st Cavalry Division in November 1950 when he chose to remain behind with wounded American soldiers after his position was overrun by the Communists. He was taken prisoner, and the events of Nov. 1-2, 1950, provide the acts of valor for which he is being honored. Kapaun has previously received the Bronze Star for Valor and the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions prior to these event.
Acts of valor
With his unit under heavy Chinese attack, Kapaun moved through the shelling and gunfire to provide aid and comfort to the wounded. As his unit attempted to break out from the surrounding Communists, he chose to remain behind with the wounded who could not be moved. Kapaun was instrumental in negotiating the peaceful surrender of the wounded. He also intervened, at the risk of his own life, to prevent the execution of a wounded American, Sgt. Herbert Miller .
Prisoner of war
Kapaun was a prisoner of the Chinese from Nov. 2, 1950, until his death in a prison hospital on May 23, 1951. In a May 2012 story in the Saturday Evening Post, the details of his captivity are described. During his imprisonment he continued to say Mass and act as a priest and chaplain. He would sneak out of barracks to steal food from the guards for his fellow POWs. He made clean bandages for wounded prisoners and picked lice from those too sick to groom themselves. He finally became ill from the lack of food and medical attention and was moved to a prison hospital where the prisoners knew that he would die from the lack of care.
The Association of the United States Army provides a biography of Kapaun . Born in Pilsen, Kan., he was ordained just before World War II and served as a chaplain for American troops in the India-Burma Theater. Returning to serve a parish in Kansas after the war, he felt called to return to the military and did so in 1948. He was stationed at Fort Bliss and then sent to Japan in 1950. With his fellow soldiers of the 8th Cavalry Regiment, he was deployed to Korea after the North Korean invasion in June.
Kapaun will be honored today for his valor as a soldier on Nov. 1-2, 1952. The Roman Catholic Church has already honored him with the title "Servant of God" which is the first step in the sainthood process. The Diocese of Wichita is actively pursuing the cause of sainthood for Father Kapaun. Many witnesses to his heroism during the Korean War and in the prisoner of war camp are still alive and able to testify to his selfless actions.
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