Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency
Department of Defense investigators have identified the remains of U.S. Army chaplain and Catholic priest Emil Kapaun among the unknown Korean War soldiers buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii.
It’s been a long journey home for the Kansas native who was imprisoned in Korea more than 70 years ago.
Former President Barack Obama told Kapaun’s story in 2013.
It was Nov. 2, 1950, when Kapaun’s unit came under heavy fire from Chinese forces near Unsan in present-day North Korea and received orders to withdraw. Only a quarter of the unit’s soldiers were able to get out. The others, including many wounded soldiers, were trapped.
Obama described Kapaun racing “between foxholes, out past the front lines and into no-man’s land — dragging the wounded to safety.”
Kapaun was captured and taken to a Chinese-run prison camp. He continued to minister to other prisoners and sacrificed for their well-being, Obama said.
Kapaun contracted dysentery and then pneumonia in prison. In May 1951, guards sent him into isolation, without food or water, to die. He was only 35 years old.
At the end of the war, surviving prisoners of war emerged from the camp with a 4-foot wooden crucifix they made in Kapaun’s honor. The group spent months secretly collecting firewood, carving it, and using radio wire for a crown of thorns.
Obama called Kapaun’s story “amazing” as he awarded him a posthumous Medal of Honor.
His remains were among those returned to U.S. custody as part of the 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement, but had been unidentified. His remains were previously among 867 buried as “Unknowns” in Hawaii.
But on Friday, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced Kapaun’s remains were identified as a part of a program to disinter the unknown Korean War dead.
Ray Kapaun, Emil Kapaun’s nephew, was tearful hearing the news of his uncle’s identification in an interview with KWCH: “There’s no words that can explain what the feelings are right now.”
“I know there’s been a lot of miracles that have been attributed to him, or are in the investigation of being attributed to him, but I think everyone sees this as a miracle,” he added.
In 1993, after extensive lobbying from fellow POW’s, Kapaun was named a “Servant of God,” by Pope John Paul II, the first step on the way to being declared a saint.
There remain some 7,500 service members who served in the Korean War who remain unaccounted for, according to the Army.