Father Emil Kapaun, a Kansas priest and chaplain, likely will be awarded the Medal of Honor in the next few weeks or months for gallantry during the Korean War, Congressional officials said Thursday.
Both houses of Congress passed the Defense Authorization bill this week, which included language that waived a requirement that a Medal of Honor winner must have performed the heroic actions within the past two years to be considered for the honor. Kapaun’s heroics took place in 1950 and 1951, on battlefields and then in prison camps in North Korea.
Kapaun, a priest and a U.S. Army chaplain, died in a North Korean prison camp in May 1951.
Before that, according to fellow soldiers, he dragged wounded soldiers through gunfire to safety, then rallied soldiers captured like himself to survive torture and starvation in frigid winter prison camps near the Chinese border. By the time he died, from weakness and disease, he had starved to what looked like a near skeleton, in part because he regularly gave his meager rations to hungry fellow prisoners.
Kapaun, after his death, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross — the Army’s second-highest award for valor — for his many heroic acts in battle before his capture. Fellow soldiers said then and now that it wasn’t fair, and wasn’t enough for what he’d done for his country. The Medal of Honor is the military’s highest award.
Dowe called Kapaun “the greatest man I have ever known.”
Kapaun grew up a farm boy near Pilsen, in Marion County, and served there as a parish priest before joining the Army. He was a chaplain in World War II and in many battles in Korea before he was captured at the battle of Unsan.
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