Medal of Honor: Chaplain Kapaun’s Heroism Feted Today

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Chaplain (Capt.) Emil Kapaun celebrating Mass during the Korean War using the hood of a Jeep as his altar, Oct. 7, 1950.

When President Obama posthumously awards Chaplain (Capt.) Emil Kapaun the Congressional Medal of Honor on Thursday April 11, the Army and the Chaplain Corps will mark this moment with great pride and celebration.

First, there is tremendous pride across the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps in celebrating this unique honor bestowed by the nation on Chaplain Kapaun.  He lived what we today call our Army values: his life, service, and sacrifice embodied what chaplains are all about.

He demonstrated through his actions with Soldiers – what we strive to provide today in Religious Support as we — Nurture the Living, Care for the Wounded, and Honor the Fallen.

Second, his military service will provide us the vehicle to study our profession within the Army itself – to compare his training, professional development, and career with what chaplains today experience.

His story is rich in resources to inform our chaplaincy today as we seek to improve and better serve the needs of Soldiers and Families.

Third, the historical record of his chaplain service in the Korean War indicates an intentional effort to meet the needs of all Soldiers, no matter their faith background or no-faith affiliation.

He completely understood the credibility of the Chaplain Corps rests on our ability to impartially serve Soldiers and their Families. It will never change.

Fourth, the enthusiasm among Korean War veterans and their family members is exciting to observe and participate in. The Army’s Office of the Chief of Chaplains is working with the Army’s other senior leaders to highlight the larger contributions of those warriors in what some have labeled as “The Forgotten War.”

I anticipate Korean War veterans will come forward to tell their stories, and as we hear their tale, we will encourage their families in the respect we give them.  This makes my Army, ARMY STRONG, as we build on their legacy to serve the nation faithfully.

I’ve read his story and wondered what were the influences that shaped him to be such a man of influence, willing to make extraordinary sacrifices for others.  Well there’s the obvious formation of his abiding religious faith and practice. That is common to all chaplains.

But there’s also the influence of his family life – as one who grew up in rural Kansas, on a farm, within a tightly-connected community. It was in that context that he learned the value of hard and honest work, loyalty and support of neighbors, and simple a lifestyle with meager possessions.

Both of those streams of influence were absolutely vital in preparing him to endure captivity with such humility and courage, so that he became the inspiration of other POWs to carry on.  Chaplain Kapaun was consistent in his daily walk, and how he lived his faith.

The remarkable acts of bravery under direct fire in November of 1950 were reinforced through those daily acts of religious faith. All chaplains have the opportunity to make that impact on others with consistent living that was epitomized by Chaplain Kapaun’s example. His consistent walk and witness encourage me on my own journey of faith. But that same witness serves to convict me of areas that I need to be more faithful.



Capt. Emil Kapaun (right), chaplain with Headquarters Company, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, helps another soldier carry an exhausted troop off the battlefield early in the Korean War.

If there is one iconic image of Chaplain Kapaun that illuminates his story, it is the picture of him helping a Soldier, with his arm around his shoulder. That black and white photo shows him helping the Soldier, with a member of the Medical Corps on the other side.

It’s profound in its simplicity, and it speaks volumes of what we must continue today.

With so many veterans affected by a decade of war in both Afghanistan and Iraq – with both visible physical wounds and invisible emotional wounds – we have a lot of work ahead of us.

But, like Chaplain Kapaun, we can do our part to make an eternal difference in the lives of others, whom we serve.

Chaplain (Colonel) Ken Stice is an Army chaplain serving at the Office of the Chief of Chaplains. He has more than 25 years of service, and five combat deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq.