September 24, 2021

Profiles of Valor: Medal of Honor Recipient Father Emil Kapaun Is Coming Home

After 70 years, this MoH recipient is finally returning to Kansas.

We have a military tradition, “No man left behind,” which is an expression of both active duty, veteran, and citizen honor and respect for our military personnel who have fallen on enemy ground. That commitment is manifest in the ongoing efforts of DoD’s Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, now with advanced DNA idents. As a result, the remains of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines, from distant fields of battle, are coming home, including those of Father Emil Kapaun.

The price of defending the gift of Liberty bequeathed to us by generations of American Patriots is very high. It is both humbling and inspiring to tell the stories of such Patriots, and this one especially so — a man who died fulfilling his duty to God, his fellow men, and our nation.

Army Chaplain Emil Kapaun was the son of Czech immigrants who settled in Pilsen, Kansas. Father Kapaun was a Catholic priest who became a military chaplain in 1944. He served on domestic installations and then in Burma in 1945-46.

After returning home, he earned a graduate degree from Catholic University under the G.I. Bill but returned to active duty in 1948. In 1949, he took his ministry to Japan and a year later, as chaplain to the 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, he departed Tokyo for Korea — after North Korea invaded South Korea. The 1st Cavalry made the first amphibious landing of the Korean War. A month later he was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, and headed for the front.

On November 1, 1950, Captain Kapaun and other soldiers with the 8th were overrun and taken prisoner by the Red Chinese. They and others taken captive were marched 90 miles to a temporary prison camp at Sombakol and then to a permanent POW camp at Pyoktong, North Korea. It was his fearless actions caring for other soldiers on that march and in the POW camps that would result in Emil Kapaun being awarded the Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest award for valor.

He risked his life every day to serve those around him, as recalled by the former POWs he served. According to his Army biography, Fr. Kapaun “distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism, patriotism, and selfless service.”

On May 23, 1951, Father Kapaun died in that prison camp. Years earlier, he had written, “When I was ordained, I was determined to ‘spend myself’ for God. I was determined to do that cheerfully, no matter in what circumstances I would be placed or how hard a life I would be asked to lead.”

Indeed he did, and he represented the core of what is good and right about America. I encourage you to read his Medal of Honor citation. You can also watch a narrative about his service and sacrifice.

God bless you, Father Kapaun.

Amid all the political rancor and “news” churn that dominates the public discourse and news cycles, it is disgraceful that there is not a single national media story about Father Kapaun’s return — until this post today. His remains will be interred in his hometown of Pilsen, Kansas, where a funeral will be held on 28 September and his family will lay him to eternal rest.

The history of those who have received the Medal of Honor is enshrined today by the National Medal of Honor Heritage Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee — the birthplace of the Medal of Honor. And their legacy is being extended to the next generation by way of the Heritage Center’s educational curriculums promoting the common character traits of recipients: courage, commitment, citizenship, sacrifice, integrity, and patriotism. I encourage you to support those curriculums.

Update Thank you to Wall Street Journal’s editor James Freeman for covering Father Kapaun’s Kansas Homecoming.

Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis
Pro Deo et Libertate — 1776

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