Korean war chaplain who gave POWs hope finally receives his due
WASHINGTON — It took 60 years for the men who served in the Korean War with Army Chaplain Emil Kapaun to have his memory honored with the military's highest award. Members of the heroic Catholic preist's family and a handful of veterans, most in their 80s, listened on Thursday as President Obama lauded the captain's bravery and kindness before handing the Medal of Honor to his nephew, Ray Kapaun.
“POWs come and tell stories of him,” the Rev. John Hotze, a priest in Wichita, told the Washington Post. “They talked about how they would never have been able to survive had it not been for Father Kapaun, who gave them hope and the courage to live.”
Kapaun was “an American soldier who didn't fire a gun, but who (carried) the mightiest weapon of all: the love for his brothers so powerful that he was willing to die so that they might live,” Obama said.
On Nov. 2, 1950, the 8th Cavalry was encircled by Chinese and North Korean troops at Unsan. Kapaun carried a wounded man to safety. In a bleak and freezing North Korean prisoner of war camp, Kapaun shared the lessons he learned on the Kansas farm where he was raised in a community of Czech immigrants. He traded his watch for a blanket, which he cut up to make socks for others. He earned the nickname “the good thief” for his ability to forage for food. He told jokes and said prayers and gave his food away.
When Kapaun took ill himself, the guards took him to “the dying room.” But Kapaun reassured the soldiers that he was going to a better place. He then turned to the guards and said, “Forgive them, O Lord, for they know not what they do.”