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‘Quiet hero' Kapaun receives posthumous Medal of Honor

Apr. 11, 2013 - 04:10PM   |  
Capt. Emil J. Kapaun's nephew Ray  accepts the Medal of Honor on behalf of his uncle, who died during the Korean War.
Capt. Emil J. Kapaun's nephew Ray accepts the Medal of Honor on behalf of his uncle, who died during the Korean War. (Mike Morones / Staff)
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Capt. Emil Kapaun, a Korean War Army chaplain credited with ministering and providing medical assistance to fellow soldiers under heavy fire during combat operations at Unsan, Korea, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on April 11. (Army)

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Though he couldn't be present to receive his Medal of Honor at the White House today, Capt. Emil J. Kapaun's family, friends and fellow soldiers turned out to recognize celebrate his heroic actions as an Army chaplain during the Korean War.

President Obama posthumously awarded the Catholic chaplain the military's highest award for valor, for conspicuous gallantry while serving with 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division from Nov. 1-2, 1950 in Unsan, Korea.

“He contended fearlessly against evil, giving of himself unselfishly, for those whom he called his ‘boys,'” Obama said. “He often appeared from nowhere, and remained only long enough to perform his duties.”

Kapaun earned the Medal of Honor convincing an enemy Chinese officer to allow American soldiers to surrender, in addition to saving American Sgt. 1st Class Herbert Miller, who was staring down the barrel of a North Korean rifle when Father Kapaun intervened, shoving the Korean soldier out of his way and carrying Miller to safety.

Miller, as well as others who served with Kapaun, stood for a round of applause during Obama's speech.

“This is the valor we honor today,” Obama said. “An American soldier who didn't fire a gun, but who wielded the mightiest weapon of all: a love for his brothers so pure that he was willing to die so they might live.”

His actions in a Korean prisoner camp after his unit's capture, however, are what turned him into a legend, Obama said.

Kapaun foraged for food, convinced his fellow prisoners to share their rations, washed clothing, boiled clean water, tended to wounds and held regular Mass until he became so ill that the Korea prison guards took him away to die in May 1951.

“I'm going to where I've always wanted to go, and when I get up there, I'll say a prayer for all of you,” he told his men.

When his fellow soldiers emerged from that camp in 1953, they carried with them a four-foot wooden crucifix they had carved in honor of the fallen priest.

Kapaun's nephew Ray Kapaun stood on stage with Obama during the reading of the citation and smiled through tears as he accepted the medal on behalf of his uncle, mouthing “thank you” to the audience as they applauded.

Ray Kapaun told the Associated Press recently that he plans to present the medal to his uncle's hometown on Pilsen, Kan., on June 2, the city's annual Father Kapaun Day.

“I can't imagine a better example for all of us, whether in uniform or out of uniform,” Obama said. “It is a testament to human spirit, the power of faith, and the good we can do each and every day even in the worst of circumstances.”

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