The Medal of Honor is the highest medal for valor in combat that our nation awards to members of the armed forces. Soldiers who receive the Medal of Honor have demonstrated the highest measure of loyalty, duty, selfless service, and personal courage – key Army Values. These Soldiers fought against seemingly overwhelming odds, at extreme risk to themselves, often while saving the lives of their comrades and inspiring others to behave in the same heroic way.
The Department of the Army's version of the medal was signed into law on July 12, 1862, to honor gallantry in action during the Civil War, but Congress made the Medal of Honor a permanent decoration in 1863.
U.S. Army Chaplain (Captain) Emil Kapaun, of Pilsen, Kansas, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama at a White House ceremony on April 11, 2013, for his heroism during the Korean War. At the time, Kapaun was listed as Missing in Action.
Kapaun’s Medal of Honor citation explains that he “distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the 3d Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy at Unsan, Korea, from November 1-2, 1950.” But Father Kapaun’s gallantry, intrepidity, and selfless service extended well beyond those two days.
Kapaun moved fearlessly from foxhole to foxhole on the Unsan battlefield, despite being under direct enemy fire. He did that to comfort and reassure the outnumbered Soldiers in his care, and he continued his work of ministry to the Soldiers who became his fellow prisoners of war. Kapaun resisted his captors’ efforts to curtail his ministry in many ways, including by openly conducting a sunrise service on Easter morning, 1951. He died in captivity on May 23, 1951. Other POWs buried Kapaun in the prison camp’s cemetery, but he was not identified among the remains returned by the Koreans to U.S. custody after the 1953 armistice. Kapaun remained unaccounted for until March 2, 2021, when his remains were identified among the 867 remains buried as “Unknowns” at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency plans to return Kapaun’s remains to Wichita, Kansas, on Sept. 25. A vigil is scheduled for Sept. 28, and a funeral service is scheduled for Sept. 29, both of which are set to be held at Hartman Arena in Park City, Kansas.
Approximately 7,500 service members who served in the Korean War remain unaccounted for. Identifying Chaplain Kapaun’s remains “reaffirms our commitment to never leaving a fallen comrade,” said Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. James C. McConville.
In 1993, Pope John Paul II declared Chaplain Kapaun a Servant of God, the first stage on the path to canonization in the Catholic Church. As a member of the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps, Father Kapaun lived the call, “Caring for the Soul of the Army,” with extraordinary faith, courage, and leadership.