Korean War chaplain with St. Louis ties to be awarded Medal of Honor

2013-03-11T16:15:00Z 2014-12-15T08:31:04Z Korean War chaplain with St. Louis ties to be awarded Medal of HonorBy Tim O’Neil toneil@post-dispatch.com 314-340-8132 stltoday.com

A U.S. Army chaplain who trained at Kenrick Seminary in St. Louis and was later captured during a Korean War battle will be awarded the Medal of Honor at the White House in April.

Capt. Emil J. Kapaun was serving with the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division at Unsan, Korea, in November 1950 when he and a group of comrades found themselves surrounded by Chinese forces, according to the White House.

Those who weren’t injured were ordered to evacuate, but Kapaun chose to stay behind with the wounded. He negotiated the safe surrender of the American forces and stopped the execution of a comrade by an enemy soldier.

Kapaun continued to minister to the captured soldiers, but he died in a POW camp hospital on May 23, 1951, at age 35.

He will be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on April 11 for what the White House called “his extraordinary heroism,” with family members in attendance. The award is the nation’s highest military honor.

Kapaun attended Kenrick Seminary here for four years and graduated in 1940. A spokeswoman for the St. Louis Archdiocese said none of Kapaun’s fellow seminarians survives.

But Andrew Bina, 25, a second-year seminarian at Kenrick, grew up in Kapaun’s home parish near Pilsen, Kan., and has admired Kapaun’s faith and bravery since he was a teenager. Bina said Catholics in the Wichita diocese have requested that the Vatican consider Kapaun for sainthood. Bina said his fellow seminarians also plan to name a room at Kenrick in Kapaun’s honor and hang a mural depicting his life’s work.

“Father Kapaun worked to keep up the morale of the other prisoners,” Bina said. “He helped them keep their desire to live in a very hostile place. He did small things for them, sometimes just a smile, and for people of all faiths. He was faithful to his calling as a priest, and he stood up for his beliefs.”

Bina said their home parish is St. John Nepomucene. In 2001, the parish erected a bronze statue of Kapaun helping a wounded fellow prisoner. Pilsen, a farm community, is about 50 miles north of Wichita.

Kapaun was ordained in Wichita after he graduated from Kenrick and joined the Army chaplain corps in 1944, serving two years. He returned to the Army in 1948 and was sent to Korea in 1950, the first year of the Korean War.

After the war, the Army honored him with its Legion of Merit for exceptionally meritorious service. Shortly before his capture, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and a Bronze Star for valor.

Tim O'Neil is a reporter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Contact him at 314-340-8132 or toneil@post-dispatch.com

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