Chaplain wins Medal of Honor

A Korean war chaplain who died in a POW camp will receive the  Medal of Honor later this week.  Read the exploits of Father Emil Kapaun after the jump.

By reporter Sharon Cohen:

In the cold, barren hills of Korea more than 60 years ago, two teary-eyed soldiers stood in a prisoner of war camp where their chaplain lay dying.

The Rev. Emil Kapaun was weak, his body wracked by pneumonia and dysentery. After six brutal months in the hellish camp, the once sturdy Kansas farmer’s son could take no more. Thousands of soldiers had already died, some starving, others freezing to death. Now the end was near for the chaplain.

Lt. Mike Dowe said goodbye to the man who’d given him hope during those terrible days. The young West Point graduate cried, even as the chaplain, he says, tried to comfort him with his parting words: “Hey, Mike, don’t worry about me. I’m going to where I always wanted to go and I’ll say a prayer for all of you.”

Lt. Robert Wood wept, too, watching the Roman Catholic chaplain bless and forgive his captors. He helped carry Kapaun out of the mud hut and up a hill on a stretcher after Chinese soldiers ordered he be moved to a hospital, a wretched, maggot-filled place the POWs dubbed “the death house.” There was little or no medical care there. Kapaun died on May 23, 1951.

These two soldiers — and many more — never forgot their chaplain. Not his courage in swatting away an enemy soldier pointing a gun at a U.S. soldier’s head. Not his talent for stealing food, then sneaking it to emaciated troops. Not the inspiring way he rallied his “boys,” as he called them, urging them to keep their spirits up.

The plain-spoken, pipe-smoking, bike-riding chaplain was credited with saving hundreds of soldiers during the Korean War. Kapaun (pronounced Kah-PAHWN) received the Distinguished Service Cross and many other medals. His exploits were chronicled in books, magazines and a TV show. A high school was named for him. His statue stands outside his former parish in tiny Pilsen, Kansas.

But one award, the Medal of Honor, always remained elusive.

Dowe and other former POWs had lobbied on and off for years, writing letters, doing interviews, enlisting support in Congress. Dowe’s recommendation was turned down in the 1950s.The campaign stalled, then picked up steam decades later. Kapaun’s “boys” grew old, their determination did not.

Now it has finally paid off.

On April 11, those two young lieutenants, Dowe and Wood, now 85 and 86, will join their comrades, Kapaun’s family and others at the White House where President Barack Obama will award the legendary chaplain the Medal of Honor posthumously.

Read the rest of the story for details of what he did:   Chaplain gets Medal of Honor 62 years after death.

For other chaplains who received the Medal of Honor, go here.

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  • P.C.

    Well deserved. Thank you Chaplain Kapaun for your sacrifice and for Lts Dowe and Wood to press the DOD to upgrade the DSM to the CMH.

  • DonS

    I read this story yesterday. This man’s selfless devotion to his flock, during a very difficult time and while his own health was gravely threatened, was exemplary of what it means to be a pastor. He richly deserves this recognition and honor.

  • Hanni

    why did it take so long.? when I think that Colin Powell got a Congressional Medal of Freedom for basically lying to the UN about you know what, and didn’t,t have the integrity to decline it, you have to grieve over our leaders, including Congress.

  • Joe

    Good doctor – as the article notes, it is not the Congressional Medal of Honor. It is simply the Medal of Honor. It is awarded by the President as Commander-in-Chief in the name of Congress. Most of the people I know in the military get upset when the Medal of Honor is called the Congressional Medal of Honor – they don’t like the highest award for bravery, honor and sacrifice expressly linked to a group of weaselly politicos.

    btw – The Medal of Honor trumps rank. Any one who has been awarded the Medal of Honor is to be saluted by all uniformed personal regardless of rank.

  • sg

    Great story.

  • Gene Veith

    Thanks, Joe. I’ll change it.

  • P.C.

    Joe @4 is technically correct that the actual term of the award is Medal of Honor. However, most of the recipients that I know or have met belong to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society and depending on the state, have a special licence plate that says “CMH.”

  • Sue

    Remember, you don’t “win” the MOH, you are awarded the MOH. Nobody wants to “win” it.

  • helen

    Interesting that a Korean war POW, who has been up for the medal for some decades, should just happen to deserve it this week.

  • Carl E. Ramsey

    Medal of Honor vs Congressional Medal on Honor. Apparently Medal of Honor is the correct title, but Congressional Medal of Honor appears all over the place. Visit the Heritage Museum at Jefferson Barracks, in Saint Louis, Missouri, and a entire wall uses Congressional Medal of Honor while listing metallic tributes to Missouri recipients. Incidentally, that’s one location where the Jefferson Barracks POW MIA Museum volunteers meet. As a Marine veteran I have the pleasure of serving as one of them, and I just sent Fr. Emil Kapaun’s story on to our chairperson, Mr. Paul Dillon. Incidentally Gene, I’m also a Concordia Seward graduate.

  • To author Sharon Cohen whom I’m sure is a fine young lady:
    No one “wins” a medal, especially the Medal of Honor. A medal is awarded to the deserving recipient, unless of course, you’re (Senator) John Kerry who received three Purple Hearts, thus automatically qualifying him to leave Vietnam and return to the United States to denounce his fellow warriors and his country.
    I’ve often wondered if he sued Gillette!