Father Emil Kapaun, whose remains were recently identified and returned to his home state (Kansas) died in a North Korean POW camp in 1951.
In “A Kansas Homecoming” James Freeman of the WSJ writes of Father Kapaun, who, seven decades later, was welcomed home and honored by the people of Wichita and beyond:
Roy Wenzl and Travis Heying (Wichita Eagle) Report on Wednesday’s Events:
Thousands came to Hartman Arena for his Mass of Christian Burial.
Many later lined Central Avenue in Wichita as his casket rolled past, drawn by a four-horse military honors caisson with a trailing horse and an empty saddle coming behind.
Hundreds of the people were Catholic schoolchildren, who knelt on the pavement and bricks, row after row of them, in the heat of the day, holding steady on those knees for a good 20 minutes. They looked upon him so that they will never forget…
All sorts lined the streets: Catholics and Protestants. People of faith, people who struggle with beliefs. Husbands and wives. Mothers with children…
Now he has come home to rest, from the Hawaiian island of Oahu, where he lay in a grave marked “U.S. Unknown – Korea” for 63 years.
In 2013, Americans learned more about Father Kapaun when, in the East Room of the White House, President Barack Obama described an event that happened in 1953 at the end of the Korean War:
A group of our POWs emerged carrying a large wooden crucifix, nearly four feet tall. They had spent months on it, secretly collecting firewood, carving it — the cross and the body — using radio wire for a crown of thorns. It was a tribute to their friend, their chaplain, their fellow prisoner who had touched their souls and saved their lives — Father Emil Kapaun… Father Kapaun has been called a shepherd in combat boots. His fellow soldiers who felt his grace and his mercy called him a saint, a blessing from God. Today, we bestow another title on him — recipient of our nation’s highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor.
After the Communist invasion of South Korea, he was among the first American troops that hit the beaches and pushed their way north through hard mountains and bitter cold. In his understated Midwestern way, he wrote home, saying, “this outdoor life is quite the thing” — (laughter) — and “I prefer to live in a house once in a while.” But he had hope, saying, “It looks like the war will end soon.”
That’s when Chinese forces entered the war with a massive surprise attack — perhaps 20,000 soldiers pouring down on a few thousand Americans. In the chaos, dodging bullets and explosions, Father Kapaun raced between foxholes, out past the front lines and into no-man’s land — dragging the wounded to safety.
When his commanders ordered an evacuation, he chose to stay — gathering the injured, tending to their wounds. When the enemy broke through and the combat was hand-to-hand, he carried on — comforting the injured and the dying, offering some measure of peace as they left this Earth.
When enemy forces bore down, it seemed like the end — that these wounded Americans, more than a dozen of them, would be gunned down. But Father Kapaun spotted a wounded Chinese officer. He pleaded with this Chinese officer and convinced him to call out to his fellow Chinese. The shooting stopped and they negotiated a safe surrender, saving those American lives.
As Father Kapaun was being led away, he noticed a wounded American, unable to walk, laying defenseless in a ditch.
An enemy soldier was standing over him, rifle aimed at his head, ready to shoot. And Father Kapaun marched over and pushed the enemy soldier aside. And then as the soldier watched, stunned, Father Kapaun carried that wounded American away.
That wounded American, Herbert Miller, reports Mr. Freeman, “would be among those attending the White House ceremony in 2013.
Chip Twellman Haley reported (New York’s Rome Sentinel):
An area man was saved during the Korean War by an Army chaplain who later received the Medal of Honor and who has now been nominated for sainthood.
A North Korean Soldier in 1950 was about to shoot Herbert A. Miller, of Pulaski. Miller had been wounded in the leg. He could barely walk, much less trudge the nearly 100 miles to the prisoner of war camp where he and fellow soldiers were being marched. The soldier stood over him, ready with a gun aimed at his head, before he was pushed aside by an Army chaplain who picked him up and carried him along the way.
The chaplain was the Rev. Emil Kapaun, a Catholic priest who stayed behind with the wounded, after members of his 1st Cavalry Division Army were forced to retreat from the blistering Battle of Unsan in November 1950. “He put me on his back,” Miller recalled. “Without him, I would never be here.”
… Miller, 88, and his wife of 60 years, Joyce, now live a peaceful life in Pulaski, in Lewis County.
The U.S. Army Website Notes:
When the Chinese instituted a mandatory re-education program, Kapaun patiently and politely rejected every theory put forth by the instructors…
When Kapaun began to suffer from the physical toll of his captivity, the Chinese transferred him to a filthy, unheated hospital where he died alone. As he was being carried to the hospital, he asked God’s forgiveness for his captors, and made his fellow prisoners promise to keep their faith. Chaplain Kapaun died in captivity on May 23, 1951.
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