On April 11, President Obama bestowed the Medal of Honor posthumously on Father Emil Kapaun, an Army Chaplain and Korean War POW who died in captivity in 1951.
Under attack from Communist Chinese forces in November 1950, Kapaun’s unit–the Third Battalion, Eighth Cavalry Regiment, First Cavalry Division–suffered mightily. The citation for the Medal of Honor records how Kapaun “calmly walked through withering enemy fire” to provide medical aid, words of comfort, or the last rites of the Roman Catholic Church.
At the moment he was captured, Kapaun picked up a fellow soldier who had a broken ankle and faced the threat of death over his immobility. Kapaun carried that solder on a nine-day march known as the Tiger Death March. This march alone took the lives of more than 100 Americans.
In captivity, other POWs told of how Kapaun “gave up his rations,” took care of other soldier’s wounds, and gave up clothing to keep other soldiers warm.
With a blood clot, dysentery, and finally, pneumonia, POW prison guards sent Father Kapaun into isolation to die in May 1951. Fellow POWs said that before Kapaun was taken away, his last words for the guards were full of compassion.
Kapaun’s remains have never been found. “At the war’s end…surviving POWs walked out of the camp with a…wooden crucifix they had made in Kapaun’s honor.”