The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced that Korean War Medal of Honor recipient, Army Chaplain (Capt.) Emil Joseph Kapaun, has been accounted for.
Kapaun, of Pilsen, Kansas, served as a chaplain with the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. On Nov. 2, 1950, the 3rd Battalion was near Unsan when the unit came under heavy fire and received orders to withdraw.
Eventually surrounded and besieged by Chinese Communist Forces, unit members became trapped and dug inside foxholes or behind bunkers. Kapaun stayed with the wounded but was soon captured and marched from village to village, with little food and shelter, to Old Pyoktong, later known as Chinese Camp 5, on the south bank of the Yalu River.
While a captive, he ministered to other prisoners of war, although he became mortally ill. He celebrated a final Easter Mass for the POWs in late March and shortly afterward was taken to the “sick house,” an old pagoda where he died of exhaustion and possible heart failure induced by pleurisy at the age of 35 on May 23, 1951.
Chaplain Kapaun repeatedly risked his own life to save the lives of hundreds of fellow Americans. His extraordinary courage, faith and leadership inspired thousands of prisoners to survive hellish conditions, resist enemy indoctrination and retain their faith in God and country.
“After 70 years Chaplain (Capt.) Kapaun has been accounted for. His heroism and resilient spirit epitomized our Army values of personal courage and selfless service,” said acting Secretary of the Army John E. Whitley.
In 1993, Pope John Paul II declared Chaplain Kapaun a servant of God, the first stage on the path to canonization. Kapaun was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama at a White House ceremony on April 11, 2013.
Currently there are approximately 7,500 service members who served in the Korean War who remain unaccounted for. Accounting for Chaplain Kapaun “reaffirms our commitment to never leaving a fallen comrade,” said Chief of Staff of the Army James C. McConville.
Father Kapaun was also a veteran of service in World War II. During the action that in Korea that earned him the Distinguished Service Cross, Father Kapaun was subsequently captured and held as a Prisoner of War until he was killed while in captivity on May 23, 1951. His remains have never been recovered. In 2012 his D.S.C. was upgraded to award of the Medal of Honor.
Headquarters, Eighth U.S. Army, Korea: General Orders No. 625 (August 18, 1951)
The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pride in presenting the Medal of Honor (Posthumously) to Captain (Chaplain) Emil Joseph Kapaun, United States Army, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty. Chaplain Kapaun distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the 3d Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy at Unsan, Korea, from 1 – 2 November 1950. On 1 November, as Chinese Communist Forces viciously attacked friendly elements, Chaplain Kapaun calmly walked through withering enemy fire in order to provide comfort and medical aid to his comrades and rescue friendly wounded from no-man’s land. Though the Americans successfully repelled the assault, they found themselves surrounded by the enemy. Facing annihilation, the able-bodied men were ordered to evacuate. However, Chaplain Kapaun, fully aware of his certain capture, elected to stay behind with the wounded. After the enemy succeeded in breaking through the defense in the early morning hours of 2 November, Chaplain Kapaun continually made rounds, as hand-to-hand combat ensued. As Chinese Communist Forces approached the American position, Chaplain Kapaun noticed an injured Chinese officer amongst the wounded and convinced him to negotiate the safe surrender of the American Forces. Shortly after his capture, Chaplain Kapaun, with complete disregard for his personal safety and unwavering resolve, bravely pushed aside an enemy soldier preparing to execute Sergeant First Class Herbert A. Miller. Not only did Chaplain Kapaun’s gallantry save the life of Sergeant Miller, but also his unparalleled courage and leadership inspired all those present, including those who might have otherwise fled in panic, to remain and fight the enemy until captured. Chaplain Kapaun’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness, above and beyond the call of duty, are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the 3d Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, the 1st Cavalry Division, and the United States Army.