After 60 years and through the determination of prisoner of war friends and author William C. Latham, Father Emil Kapaun will be posthumously receiving a Congressional Medal of Honor next month.
In 1953, when their guards finally released them, POWs walked south
carrying a grim-looking, hand-carved, almost 4-foot-long, hand-carved crucifix,
from North Korea to South Korea. First they were debriefed by Army officers.
Then they carried the crucifix to the war correspondents standing nearby. They
said they had a story to tell. They talked for a long time, holding the
crucifix like a relic. Within hours, people all over the world heard about a
daring and resourceful priest from Kansas who had been murdered by the Chinese
guards. His name was Emil Kapaun.
Kapaun’s father was a Czech farmer from Kansas. Before Kapaun joined
the Army as a chaplain, he was a priest in his little hometown of Pilsen.
Kapaun was recklessly brave on many battlefields, dragging wounded soldiers
through machine gun fire, getting a tobacco pipe shot out of his mouth, saving
dozens of lives in the battle of Unsan, where he was captured. Kapaun saved
hundreds of lives in the camps, making homemade pans so prisoners could boil
water to stave off dysentery and stealing food from the guards to feed the
On Jan. 16, 1954, a story in the Saturday
Evening Post brought Kapaun’s heroism to a worldwide audience. But this was
not enough; years passed, old soldiers began to die, and people began to lose
Around 2002, Bill Latham entered the picture. Latham began noticing the
name “Kapaun” in papers he collected. At reunions, Latham thought there was
something wonderful about how soldiers talked about him. They said to him that
Kapaun should have received the medal. The old soldiers’ passion for their
friend touched Latham. After he heard about Todd Tiahrt’s failed application,
he called the congressman’s office. Tiahrt’s staff told Latham that in 2002,
Tiahrt had recommended to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that Kapaun be
awarded the medal. Rumsfeld rejected it because of lack of “substantiating
evidence.” Latham suspected there was plenty of substantiating evidence. He now
went to find it.
Read more on how the story unfolds here.
For more on Latham’s new book, in which Fr. Kapaun figures prominently, click here.