Hagel Inducts Army Chaplain Into Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes
By Nick Simeone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 12, 2013 Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel today inducted the nation’s latest Medal of Honor recipient into the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes: Army Chaplain (Capt.) Emil J. Kapaun, who died while counseling and saving countless fellow service members even as his own life was about to end in a prisoner of war camp during the Korean War.
Kapaun was just 35 years old when he died May 23, 1951. His remains were never recovered.
A day after President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Kapaun the nation’s highest military honor for acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty, Hagel described Kapaun as one of the unheralded heroes of the Korean conflict, noting the courageous Catholic chaplain had sacrificed everything so that others could live.
“In a day when real heroes are hard to find, at a time when America is searching for a center of gravity, it’s particularly important that we grab ahold of people like Father Kapaun and not just acknowledge those acts of heroism and gallantry in what he did as a clergyman but the composite, who he was and what he was about,” Hagel said at today’s Pentagon ceremony.
Kapaun was serving with the 3rd Battalion, 8th Calvary Regiment, 1st Calvary Division at Unsan, Korea, in 1950 where as a prisoner of war held by the Chinese he administered faith to his fellow POWs, giving last rites to some, his own clothes to others, even regularly sneaking out of camp to steal food so other captives would not perish.
Accounts from survivors credit him for their ability to endure horrific camp conditions including severe cold, disease and starvation.
Kapaun would himself die as a prisoner, but not before serving as a leader to thousands of men captured along with him.
“I know of no finer example to point to,” said Hagel, as he inducted Kapaun, who hailed from Pilsen, Kan., into the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes.
Kapaun “just didn’t appear in the Korean War. Something shaped him,” the secretary added.
Only six other chaplains have been awarded the Medal of Honor. Kapaun has been named a “Servant of God” by the Vatican, and he is considered a candidate for sainthood.