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Korean War Hero Father Emil J. Kapaun Brought Home to Kansas

Receives hero’s welcome 70 years after death in POW camp.

AMS Auxiliary Bishop F. Richard Spencer kisses the flag-draped casket of Korean War hero and Medal of Honor recipient Father Emil J. Kapaun, Servant of God, at St. John Nepomucene Catholic Church in Pilsen, KS, on Sept. 26, 2021

By Ave Maria Radio News and The Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA

Washington, District of Columbia 27 September 2021 / 4:15 pm

Seventy years after his death at the age of 35 on May 23, 1951, in a North Korean prisoner-of-war camp, the remains of Catholic U.S. Army chaplain and Medal of Honor recipient Father Emil J. Kapaun, Servant of God, are finally back home in Kansas.  On Friday, U.S. Army Forces Command Chaplain Father Rajmund Kopec, CH (COL), USA, and U.S. Air Force Major Kristina Roberts, Father Kapaun’s grandniece, escorted the flag-draped casket on a commercial airline flight to Wichita from Hawaii, where the priest-hero’s remains had been interred among unknown Korean War soldiers at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific after North Korea turned them over to the United States following the 1953 armistice. In March, a U.S. government forensics team identified Father Kapaun’s remains through a DNA match. Father Kopec serves with endorsement and faculties from the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA (AMS).

Mr. Ray Kapaun, Father Kapaun’s nephew, traveled to Honolulu last week along with Wichita Bishop Carl A. Kemme and other diocesan representatives to accept the remains. At Wichita’s Eisenhower National Airport on Saturday, the Servant of God, whose Cause for Sainthood is under consideration by the Catholic Church, received a hero’s welcome, with airport firetrucks shooting a water salute as other relatives and Catholic clergy including AMS Auxiliary Bishop F. Richard Spencer greeted the arriving flight. Bishop Spencer serves as Episcopal Vicar for the Eastern United States at the request of His Excellency, the Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., Archbishop for the Military Services

Father Kapaun is remembered for risking his life on the battlefield to minister to the troops on the frontlines. After the North Koreans took him prisoner in November of 1950, he endured a brutal captivity during which he nonetheless continued to serve and bolster the morale of fellow prisoners. Bishop Spencer observed that “U.S. Military chaplains are trained in how to nourish the living, comfort the afflicted, and honor the dead.  Father Kapaun performed all three with great dignity.  Father Kapaun stands out in today’s world in how he lived his ministry with great compassion and love for others.” 

From Wichita’s airport, a military escort brought Father Kapaun’s remains to St. John Nepomucene Catholic Church in Pilsen, where early in life the priest-hero was baptized, served as an altar boy, and later celebrated his first Mass of Thanksgiving and became pastor following his 1940 ordination before joining the Army as a chaplain in 1944. Today, Father Kapaun’s remains are being delivered to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Wichita for a vespers service for priests of the diocese. Tomorrow, a luncheon will be held at the Cathedral for special guests including families of other prisoners of war, military officials, and supporters of Father Kapaun’s Cause for Canonization

Tomorrow evening, a funeral vigil will be held at Hartman Arena in Park City, with music provided by the Air Force and West Point Catholic Cadet choirs and a rosary led by Father John Hotze, Episcopal Delegate for the Cause.  The Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at the Arena on Wednesday morning, after which Father Kapaun’s remains will be driven to a site near Veterans’ Memorial Park in downtown Wichita where his casket will be placed on a horse-drawn military caisson. The priest hero will receive full military honors including a 21-gun salute and Taps. A funeral procession will bring the casket from the Memorial Park to the Cathedral, where Father Kapaun will be laid to rest, at last, in a 54-hundred-pound marble tomb. Both the vigil and the Mass of Christian Burial will be broadcast live on EWTN and live-streamed on the Diocese of Wichita’s YouTube channel.

In March, Michael O’Neil, the host of EWTN TV and Radio’s The Miracle Hunter, joined guest host Jerry Usher on Kresta in the Afternoon. You can hear that interview below.

Michael O’Neil on Ave Maria Radio’s Kresta in the Afternoon discussing Servant of God Emil Kapaun.
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