Military chaplains are important members of military units. They keep morale up in tough situations and, in some cases quite literally, save their fellow soldiers’ lives.
One chaplain from the Korean War stood out above the others. Chaplain Emil J. Kapaun went above and beyond for the men he was deployed with. He said Mass for the troops, but beyond that, he helped the men when they needed it.
The Chinese had overrun the men, and Kapaun stepped in, pushing away a Chinese soldier who was going to execute an American soldier. Even though he was risking his own life, he put the man on his back and took him to safety.
The men and Kapaun were captured, and he continued to take care of them. He said Mass, stole food and gave the men clothes off his back to save them from the freezing Korean temperatures.
Kapaun was selfless. However, he died while a prisoner on May 23, 1951, from pneumonia and malnutrition.
Back On American Soil
In the 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement, more than 1850 remains of unidentified Americans were brought to Hawaii to be buried. Forty years later, in 1993, Pope John Paul II deemed Kapuan a Servant of God, which is the first step in the process of canonization.
In 2013, twenty years after, Kapaun was posthumously given the Medal of Honor. He became the ninth chaplain to be given the medal.
After many years, on March 2, 2021, the Defense POW/ MIA Accounting Agency positively identified the chaplain’s remains. After a long 70 years, he could finally come home to Kansas.
In September of the same year, his body flew to Witchita’s Dwight Eisenhower International Airport. The transfer of his remains was overseen by Carl Kemme, Bishop of Wichita, and F. Richard Spender of the Archdiocese for the Military Services.
On September 25, he was taken via an escorted motorcade to his hometown. On September 28, the town held a funeral vigil for Kapaun that was broadcast on TV and live-streamed on YouTube.
Thousands came together the following day for his Mass of Christian Burial at the Hartman Arena in Wichita. After the Mass was said, he was carried via horse-drawn caisson from the Veterans Memorial Park to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Witchita.
His final resting place was a 5,400-pound tomb.