In the Catholic community there are more than 7,000 saints. To achieve this status, they must be approved by the Vatican for having lived a life of holiness, purity, goodness and devotion. And soon, a veteran chaplain could be added to this list. After serving and ultimately losing his life in the Korean War, Chaplain Emile KaplaunThe legacy lives on today.
Kapaun served as a Roman Catholic priest in the military during World War II and in the Korean War. During the first, he stayed at the Burma Theater. He was captured as a POW during the Korean War, when he helped feed and feed other prisoners, despite risking his own life.
He eventually died while still contained.
In 1993 Kapaun was made a Servant of God, which is the first step on the path to becoming a Saint in the Catholic faith. He also received a Medal of Honor, then a Purple Heart and was awarded the Legion of Merit, posthumously, after those who served with him rallied around the fact that he was not being properly honored for his brave effort.
In 1956, a Catholic high school also bears his name in Wichita, Kansas, the Chaplain Kapaun Memorial High School.
However, it wasn’t until 2021 that Kapaun’s body was properly identified. The POW Accounting Agency, or DPAA, notified his next of kin and his remains were returned to family members in Kansas who held a formal funeral service.
While serving, Kapaun is commended for his selflessness and willingness to celebrate his faith, even when they have been prohibited from doing so in the Korean prison camp from Pyoktong.
In fact, it was because of Kapaun’s own actions that he was captured in the first place. While the 8th Cavalry Regiment was attacked by approximately 20,000 Chinese People’s Volunteer Army soldiers in the Battle of Unsan, it remained while other American forces withdrew. He is credited with running into enemy fire and saving up to 40 men, earning him the Medal of Honor.
Then he and other prisoners had to walk nearly 90 miles to North Korea. Although many prisoners refused the order to transport wounded limbs, he was able to change their minds. This prevented healthy soldiers from receiving further punishment and kept injured men with the group.
In the prison camp, more than 20 soldiers died every day due to bad conditions, including extreme cold, lack of food, lice, disease, etc. However, Kapaun helped keep spirits up by leading prayer and stealing food for others, and risking his life to do so. He also smuggled drugs to help others stay healthy.
Although extremely ill himself, Kapaun still led a sunrise worship service on Easter Sunday in 1951. He died two months later of malnutrition and pneumonia.