Emil Joseph Kapaun was a Roman Catholic priest and United States Army captain who served as a United States Army chaplain during World War II and the Korean War. During WWII, he served in the Burma Theater from April 1945 to May 1946 where he and one other chaplain ministered to approximately 19,000 servicemen and women. Father Kapaun ministered to U.S. soldiers and local missions, sometimes traversing nearly 2,000 miles a month by jeep or airplane.
Father Kapaun served again with the U.S. Army in Korea, and his division engaged in several skirmishes. Kapaun and his assistant learned of a wounded soldier stranded by enemy machine gun and small arms fire. The two braved the enemy fire and saved the man’s life, for which Kapaun was awarded the Bronze Star with a “V” device for valor.
Kapaun gained a reputation for bravely serving the troops, rescuing the wounded, and ministering to the living by performing baptisms, hearing confessions, offering Holy Communion, and celebrating Mass on an improvised altar set up on the front end of a Jeep. He was a missionary and disciple of hope, and that hope kept many people alive.
Later, he and other members of the 3rd Battalion were taken prisoner by the Chinese. He died in the POW camp at the age of 35. He told fellow prisoners, “Don’t worry about me. I’m going where I always wanted to go, and when I get there, I’ll say a prayer for all of you.”
In 1993, Pope John Paul II declared Kapaun a Servant of God, the first stage on the path to canonization, and in 2013, Kapaun posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his actions in Korea. He is the ninth American military chaplain to be awarded the Medal of Honor. Kapaun’s body was not fully accounted for until March 2, 2021, and on September 29, 2021, a Mass of Christian Burial was held in Kapaun’s home state of Kansas.
Special thanks to Resident, Maggie Vater for directing Chaplain Dwight to Father Kapaun’s story.