Capt. Emil Kapaun, a Roman Catholic priest who dodged enemy fire and helped wounded soldiers during the Korean War, posthumously received the Medal of Honor yesterday during a ceremony in the White House East Room.
Roy Wenzl, the co-author of the The Miracle of Father Kapaun: Priest, Soldier and Korean War Hero, agreed to answer questions from Breitbart News regarding Kapaun’s heroism and the reason he received his award more than 60 years after his noble deeds.
Breitbart News: Why has it taken so long for our government to honor Kapaun?
Roy Wenzl: Like any large organization, the military has its fair share of bureaucracy and red tape. Kapaun did win the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions at Unsan, which is the Army’s second-highest award for bravery. So he wasn’t totally ignored by the Army. But the men who served with him thought he deserved the Medal of Honor, which is why they kept lobbying for it. When Kapaun was recommended for the Medal by the Secretary of Defense, Congress had to pass special legislation because more than two years had passed since the action Kapaun was honored for. That also delayed the process.
BNN: Can you share a specific story of his bravery–it sounds like there are many examples to choose from.
RW: There are many, both on the battlefield and in the POW camp. On the battlefield, perhaps the most famous is Kapaun brushing aside a Chinese soldier who was about to execute Herb Miller. Miller was lying in a ditch, his ankle broken by a hand grenade. Chinese soldiers were killing many of the wounded. Kapaun, who had negotiated the surrender of some other wounded Americans and himself was a captive at this time, saw this happening. He walked away from his group, brushed aside the befuddled soldier and picked Miller up and put him on his back. He then carried Miller for much of the long march to the POW camp. Miller and his wife, Joyce, attended Thursday’s ceremony at the White House. Miller later wept as he held the Medal of Honor won by Kapaun.
BNN: Is it common for Army Chaplains to throw themselves in harm’s way as Kapaun did?
RW: Certainly not uncommon. Six other chaplains before Kapaun have won the Medal of Honor, all of them for doing the same things in battle that Kapaun did. Soldiers who served with Kapaun, though, said he was shockingly brave, running through gunfire to rescue wounded soldiers while everyone else was ducking for cover. He also won a Bronze Star just after landing in Korea with the 8th Cavalry for leading a group of men in a rescue mission for two wounded soldiers.
BNN: Did the documentary on his remarkable life help make today’s honor a reality? Has his family played a role in making this long-overdue honor happen?
RW: I think the movement for Kapaun to win the Medal of Honor had already started to gain momentum when the documentary came out. What the documentary perhaps did was prod some more folks in Washington, D.C. that this needed to happen sooner rather than later and made them a bit more active in the cause. Rep. Mike Pompeo, who represents the Wichita area, inherited the Kapaun cause when he took office and was pretty determined in making sure it finally happened. Kapaun’s family has been involved in making this happen, but not perhaps as much as his former POWs. They have lobbied, written letters and given sworn testimony for decades on Kapaun’s behalf. I think the Kapaun family has credited them more than anyone.
BNN: Have any Hollywood filmmakers considered making a film about Kapaun’s life, to your knowledge?
RW: Not to our knowledge. We think, though, that it would make a terrific film.
BNN: Regarding possible sainthood … what can you tell us about the status of this request, and how long has it been in discussion?
RW: I think the push for sainthood began in 1953, right after the POWs were released and began telling the story of Kapaun’s bravery and faith in the camp. I think the Army’s chaplain service first took up the cause, but for whatever reason it did not seem to move anywhere. The Wichita Diocese then took over more recently, under the leadership of Father John Hotze, and has made significant progress. A Vatican investigator has made at least two trips to Wichita to interview families and medical personnel involved in possible miracles attributed to Kapaun. One of the miracle families attended Thursday’s White House ceremony. In the summer of 2012, the diocese gathered up all of its documents on its investigation and shipped them to the Vatican. The investigator is finishing his report on the matter, which he will then present to Vatican officials.