Go to contents

Chaplain Emil Kapaun returns to family after 70 years

Posted March. 08, 2021 07:37,   

Updated March. 08, 2021 07:37


The remains of the Roman Catholic priest and United States Army chaplain Emil Kapaun (1916-1951) have been found in more than 70 years. He was called “the Jesus of the Korean War” because he devoted himself for dying soldiers in the Korean War, even including enemies.

According to media outlets including The Washington Post, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency under the Pentagon identified him through teeth structure and DNA comparison on Friday (local time). He was buried at Honolulu’s National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific where some 650 unidentified soldiers who died in the Korean War were buried. The U.S. authorities began disinterring the soldiers since 2019.  

Kapaun, an American of Czech decent born in 1916, was ordained a Catholic priest in 1940. He serviced in the Second World War and was dispatched to Korea in 1950. He held mass on a makeshift altar, which was essentially a jeep covered with blankets, and dug trenches with branches and straws to evacuate injured soldiers. He was more than just a chaplain.  

His unit was sieged by the Chinese forces in Wonsan, South Hamgyong Province in November the same year. An order of withdrawal was given, but he stayed with the injured, risking to be captured by the enemy. He took care of the soldiers and prayed for their last moments in the enemy camp where bomb shells flew over their heads. “He pushed the muzzle of a Chinese soldier who was trying to shoot me and carried me,” said Herbert Miller who survived the battle. He said it was thanks to Kapaun that he was able to return home. He said Kapaun helped out injured Chinese soldiers as well.  

He was held captive at a prison camp in Byokdong, North Pyongan Province. He stole food from the Chinese army warehouse and shared it with starved soldiers. He asked a camp worker to exchange his clock with a blanket and made socks out of it for other prisoners. He caught pneumonia due to the poor conditions of the camp and died in May 1951. “You don’t have to cry for me. I am going where I always wanted to go and I will pray for all of you when I get there,” he said as he died.  

“The Story of Chaplain Kapaun” depicting his sacrifices based on the testimonies of survived soldiers including Miller was published in 1954. Cardinal Cheong Jin-suk (89),who was a theology student in 1956, published a translated version in Korea. In 1993, Pope John Paul II declared him a Servant of God, the first stage on the path to canonization. Former U.S. President Barack Obama also presented him the Medal of Honor, the highest honor for soldiers, in 2013.