WICHITA, Kan. — A U.S. Army chaplain who died in a prisoner of war camp during the Korean War was finally laid to rest in his home state of Kansas. Next, he could become a Catholic saint.
KAKE reports that thousands gathered in Wichita on Wednesday to witness a funeral procession for U.S. Army Chaplain Emil J. Kapaun.
Kapaun served during World War II and returned to service as a military chaplain in 1949, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA). As the Korean War began, officials say he was sent to the front lines, where he began to earn the respect and admiration of his fellow soldiers as he risked his life to minister and provide aid to the wounded.
During the Battle of Unsan in November of 1950, officials say Kapaun’s unit was overrun and they retreated to safety, but he insisted on staying behind to help the wounded, dying and those who could not help themselves. Becasuse of that, he was captured and taken to a prisoner of war camp more than 60 miles away, the DPAA explained.
At the camp, officials say Kapaun taught other prisoners what it means to live selflessly and reportedly risked his own life by stealing food and medicine from the guards, as well as offered his own daily rations to his fellow prisoners to keep them alive longer.
After more than six months at the camp, officials Kapaun’s deteriorated health and malnutrition caused him to develop pneumonia, which he never recovered from and died on May 23, 1951.
Kapaun was buried at the camp and classified as unaccounted-for.
Still, his legacy grew and in 1993, Kapaun was officially named a Servant of God, which began his road to sainthood. In 2008, the Cause for the Canonization of Chaplain Kapaun was officially launched. The Congregation for Saints in Rome was getting ready to vote on Kapaun’s advancement to the next step of sainthood just before the pandemic hit, which paused the process, according to officials.
And in 2013, Kapaun was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. His nephew, Ray Kapaun, accepted the honor from President Barack Obama on his uncle’s behalf.
In May of 2021, the DPAA announced that Kapaun’s remains had been positively identified. His remains had previously been interred in a grave marked “unknown” at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu in 1956, and had been disinterred in 2019.
Earlier this month, Kapaun’s family traveled to the DPAA facility at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii for a chain of custody ceremony, which began the chaplain's final journey home after more than 70 years. And on Wednesday, many people gathered in Wichita as Kapaun made it to his final resting place.