Some surprising news has come to light about the man who could become the first Roman Catholic Saint to emerge from the Korea War.
The remains of Father Emil Kapaun, a U.S. Army Chaplain who died in North Korean captivity, were thought to be in an unmarked grave on the Yalu River near Prison Camp 5 but may be in Hawaii.
Emil Joseph Kapaun (April 20, 1916 – May 23, 1951) was a Roman Catholic priest and United States Army captain who served as a United States Army chaplain during World War II and the Korean War. Kapaun was a chaplain in the Burma Theater of World War II, then served again as a chaplain with the U.S. Army in Korea, where he was captured. He died in a prisoner of war camp.
Father Kapaun’s remains may have been among the sets of remains repatriated by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command – now the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) – before the suspension of its repatriation program in 2005, according to a source in Kapaun’s hometown of Pilsen, Kansas,
Kapaun’s surviving relatives reportedly received noticed that his remains may be among those yet to be definitively identified at the DPAA’s lab in Hawaii.
Father Kapaun’s remains may have been repatriated by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command
The DPAA also estimates that “peninsular Camp 5 on the south bank of the Yalu River,” where Kapaun is thought to have been buried, holds 550 remains.
In the past, the program for repatriating the remains of those missing in action has been suspended due to tensions between North Korea and the U.S.
In April 2010, Reuters reported that North Korea had threatened to “abandon a search for the remains of U.S. soldiers” in what experts identified as a “likely a move by the destitute North to win cash from Washington, which due to political reasons had suspended joint recovery projects that once brought cash to the reclusive state’s depleted coffers.”
The article also noted that “more than 20 sets of remains had been identified” prior to the suspension of recovery work in 2005.
More after this…
While the location of Father Kapaun’s remains is unclear, his memory still burns brightly for the folks back home.
He died in a POW camp in North Korea in the spring of 1951.
Kapaun was a POW of North Korean and communist China during the particularly bitter winter of 1950-51. Karl Warner, of the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center, wrote that “the cold permeated every aspect of soldiers’ lives during the first winter in North Korea.”
“Unfortunately, winter came early in 1950, and the Americans found the cold to be just as deadly an enemy as the North Koreans fleeing before them,” he said, noting that temperatures approached 32 degrees below zero.
Prior to his capture, Father Kapaun was providing assistance during a battle on November 1, 1950, when the 8th Calvary Regiment of the 1st Calvary Division “was ambushed and surrounded by the Chinese at Unsan, Korea,” according to the testimony of Korean War veteran Peter Busatti.
The North Koreans had been beaten back by the U. S. and United Nations forces. The guys were starting to think about being home for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Those pleasant thoughts of being home for the holidays were a bit premature. Right after midnight of November 2, All Soul’s Day, their world exploded. The area held by 3,000 American soldiers was unexpectedly attacked by a force of more than 20,000 charging Chinese troops. The Americans, taken by surprise and fighting valiantly, never had a chance.
“All hell broke loose on this night, mortars were falling in on us, machine gun fire broke in from all sides, men were running and screaming at us from all directions. It was a massacre too difficult to describe in detail. Almost all of the group I was with were killed or captured.”
The Chinese captured Father Kapaun the next day because he had gone back into the fighting to minister to the sick and the wounded. He then made the long trek in the bitter cold with the other POWs to Prison Camp 5 at Pyoktong on the Yalu River.
Father Kapaun ran from foxhole to foxhole, dragging out the wounded and giving Last Rites to the dying. Over the sound of gunfire and explosions he heard confessions. Feverishly working beyond the American lines in “no-man’s land,” he actually stopped an execution and negotiated with the enemy for the safety of wounded Americans. No one knows how many young soldiers he carried to safety on his back. Going back again and again he was finally taken prisoner as he tried to rescue another wounded soldier. He was not the only American GI captured that night.
By daybreak the battle was over and hundreds of newly captured American POWs, including Father Kapaun, began a forced 87-mile “death march” to a POW camp. The earlier thoughts about Christmas in America and drumsticks on Thanksgiving quickly evaporated as every step in the mud and snow and freezing cold now occupied the minds of the young soldiers who had suddenly become prisoners of war.
Finally, fellow POWs, who survived and were repatriated in the Operation Big Switch POW exchange as a part of the 1953 Armistice, reported the circumstances of his death. They said that Kapaun died of a combination of phlebitis from a blood clot in his leg, dysentery, pneumonia, malnutrition, and starvation. He had been taken away to the POW camp “hospital” by the guards and died on May 23, 1950 – the “hospital” being the place prisoners were sent to die.
Today, the Diocese of Wichita is moving forward with the paperwork necessary to have its favorite son declared a saint by the Roman Catholic Church. The first step toward canonization occurred in 1993 when Pope John Paul II named Emil Kapaun a Servant of God.
In a letter posted on the Cause for the Canonization of Emil Kapaun website, Father John Hotze wrote that the “Congregation for [the Causes of] Saints met to discuss the historical documents” presented for the canonization of Father Emil Kapaun and voted affirmatively with regard to their completeness and accuracy.
In 1993, Captain Chaplain Emil Joseph Kapaun was declared a Servant of God by Pope John Paul II. The canonization process of this selfless priest is underway and there are two miracles under investigation at the present time. The simple priest from a little farm in Kansas is truly an inspiration for us all.
To advance on the next step toward canonization – Venerable – additional documentation was reportedly forwarded recently to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in the Vatican regarding the circumstances of a claimed miracle.
Possible 2006 miracle
In 2006, Avery Gerlman, who had an auto-immune disorder, entered into an eighty-seven-day coma due after multiple organs were damaged. Her parents and others prayed to Kapaun, and she recovered. Later scans of her damaged lungs and kidneys showed no signs of scarring. Avery went on to become physically active, earned her license to become a licensed practical nurse at Wichita Area Technical College, and plans on becoming a registered nurse.
Possible 2008 miracle
On June 29, 2008, the opening ceremony which officially opens the cause for sainthood for Kapaun was made on Father Kapaun Day held at St. John Nepomucene Catholic Church in Pilsen, Kansas.
On June 26, 2009, Dr. Andrea Ambrosi, the Roman Postulator for Kapaun’s cause for canonization arrived in Wichita in order to interview doctors in relation to alleged miraculous events.
Among these is the claim of 20-year-old Chase Kear, who survived a severe head injury last year in part, he and his family claim, because they petitioned Fr. Emil Kapaun to intercede for them. Kear, a member of the Hutchinson Community College track team, fell on his head during pole vaulting practice in October 2008, but, it is said, was miraculously healed despite being near death. The Rev. John Hotze, the judicial vicar for the Diocese of Wichita, and trained in canon law, will assist in investigating Kear’s case.
Hotze has spent eight years investigating the proposed sainthood of Kapaun. The Catholic Church has considered canonizing Kapaun ever since soldiers were liberated from Korean prisoner-of-war camps in 1953 and told of Kapaun’s heroism and faith. The Wichita diocese has continued to receive reports of miracles involving Kapaun. He is being considered for possible designation as a martyr.
Possible 2011 miracle
On May 7, 2011, Nick Dellasega collapsed at a Get Busy Living 5K race in Pittsburg, Kansas (honoring the memory of Dylan Meier). Due to a series of coincidences, Dellasega survived, even though he had seemingly died on the scene. His childhood friend, EMT Micah Ehling, is quoted by The Wichita Eagle as saying “I know what a face looks like when the soul leaves the body. And that’s what Nick looked like”. Some bystanders attribute Dellasega’s survival to the devotion of his cousin, Jonah Dellasega, who fell to his knees at the scene and prayed to Kapaun. In a strange coincidence not reported by The Eagle, Dylan Meier, in whose memory the 5K was being held, was slated to teach English in Korea at the time of his death.
Skeptics point out that Kapaun’s spirit could not possibly have orchestrated the bizarre coincidences that saved Nick’s life because some of them were set in motion long before Nick collapsed, including a visit by Nick’s uncle, Mark, a medical doctor from Greenville, North Carolina. Divine providence, however, can be viewed as having set in motion all the events. The Eagle reported, “The coincidences are strange enough and the prayer notable enough that a Catholic Church investigator has reported Nick’s story to the Vatican, which happens to have a representative in Wichita again, sizing up Father Emil Kapaun for sainthood.”