WASHINGTON (Army News Service, April 12, 2013) -- An Army chaplain and Medal of Honor recipient, Capt. Emil J. Kapaun, was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Heroes at the Pentagon, Friday.
Family members and veterans of the Korean War who served with Kapaun, along with a number of Soldiers and dignitaries attended.
On Thursday, Kapaun was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions leading up to his capture as a prisoner of war in North Korea. President Barack Obama presented the medal to Kapaun's nephew, Ray Kapaun, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House.
Just prior to the induction ceremony Friday, retired Col. Paul Wood, who was in the same POW camp as Kapaun, said that he recalled the chaplain "asking us every night if we wanted to pray with him.
"Of course everybody did," he said. "Religion didn't make any difference to him or us at the time. He'd pray with us and give moral support. And by doing that, he saved a lot of lives. He instilled faith and hope in us that we were going to get out of there."
Kapaun and his fellow Soldiers became POWs at the beginning of November 1950. Kapaun died the following year, May 23, in his prison camp within sight of the Yalu River which marks the border between North Korea and China.
Just weeks prior to his death, Wood recalled Kapaun leading the Soldiers in his last Easter service.
"We sang 'God Bless America' really loud so everyone in the valley could hear us. Others did hear it and joined in."
IN THICK OF FIGHTING
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno was the first to speak at the induction ceremony.
Although Kapaun never fired a single bullet, he saved hundreds, if not thousands of lives, Odierno said, indicating that the chaplain bolstered the Soldiers' hope and spirits.
On Nov. 1, 1950, during All Saints Day, Kapaun said four masses for the men of his unit, 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, Odierno said.
During that day and the next, the Chinese, who greatly outnumbered the Soldiers, attacked. Kapaun was in the thick of it, Odierno said.
As the battle raged, Kapaun "ministered to each, according to their respected traditions -- in many cases giving them their last rites," Odierno said. "He candidly told them, 'a lot of you guys aren't going to make it home.'"
Kapaun refused to retreat to safety, although urged to do so by his men, Odierno said, adding that "Father Kapaun said 'my place is with the wounded.'"
Kapaun negotiated the surrender to avoid a certain bloodbath and saved many lives, Odierno continued. Later as prisoners of war, "his spirit never faded and he gave them the hope and courage they needed."
Besides the Medal of Honor, Kapaun was awarded the Legion of Merit and Bronze Star with "V" for valor many years ago. And in addition to serving in Korea, Kapaun served two years in the Army during World War II in the China-Burma-India Campaign.
Later as a POW in Korea, fellow prisoner Bob Wood asked Kapaun why he decided to serve a second time, when he had already had done so much for his country, Odierno related. Kapaun never lost his sense of humor.
Kapaun, who had led a parish prior to his Army service, replied to his fellow POW, "'my God Bob, did you ever have to deal with one of those women's church groups?'" Odierno's anecdote brought a moment of levity to many a teary eye in the audience.
Kapaun ministered right to the very end, Odierno said. "He gave the last rites and heard confessions even in final hours."
SERVANT OF GOD
Rev. John Hotze, judicial vicar for the Catholic Diocese of Wichita, near Kapaun's hometown of Pilsen, Kan., explained in an interview last month that his diocese is assisting the Vatican in the canonization process which could lead to sainthood for Kapaun. Kapaun has already been named a Servant of God by the Vatican, the final step before sainthood.
Secretary of the Army John McHugh spoke next at the induction ceremony, describing how Kapaun's influence continued even after death in situations many are calling miracles.
During one occasion, a 12-year-old girl's kidney shut down, McHugh said.
"The family prayed for a miracle, the family prayed to Father Kapaun," he said. "At one point, her lungs were so damaged that her doctors said that even if she survived, she'd have to be on oxygen for the rest of her life. Six months later, she was competitive cycling."
In another case, a young runner collapsed during a 5-kilometer charity race.
"He didn't have a pulse or heartbeat," McHugh said, adding that the runner's uncle, a physician, was present and couldn't revive him.
Also present was the runner's 14-year-old cousin, he continued. The cousin "prayed to Father Kapaun. In what many believe to be divine intervention, that young runner, presumed dead, is with us today. That young man was Nick."
To the applause of the audience, Nick stood to be recognized.
In another account, a young pole-vaulter crushed his skull in an accident during his sport and was written off for dead, McHugh said. "Not long after, his family prayed to Father Kapaun and the boy awoke mystifying doctors. That boy, Chase, is with us today.
Chase stood to be recognized, again to audience applause.
SOMEONE TO LOOK UP TO
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, the next speaker, reflected that "real heroes are hard to find these days -- heroes like Father Kapaun. It's important we grab ahold of people like Father Kapaun.
"It wasn't just about moral courage," Hagel continued. "It was really about moral conviction. All of us attempt to live up to that. We all fail, but we get back up and continue to try to achieve those responsible human characteristics that society expects from each of us.
"He didn't just appear in World War II and the Korean War and perform those tremendous acts. Something shaped him. How did that happen?" he asked rhetorically.
"I suspect it is the whole of the man, how he was shaped, how he was raised, what he believed in-- it was part of his journey that was, unfortunately cut short."
Ray Kapaun, the son of Chaplain Kapaun's brother, gave the final eulogy and celebration of Kapaun's life. He provided anecdotes about his childhood and about the kind of person "Father Emil," as he called him, was.
"If Father Emil were standing here today, I know he'd look back on the last two days and say 'oh shucks, you kidding me? You guys did all of this for me? All I was really doing was my job. All I was doing was what I needed to do. All I was doing was what God directed me to do. There were a lot braver men than what I am.'
"But he would also look out at his POW buddies and I know he'd walk over to you guys today, and he'd wrap his arms around each of you and he'd say, 'I'm so happy you guys made it home. And please, please don't be sad for me -- because I made it home too.'"