Submitted by: LTC (R) Richard R. Hodgson, Senior Army Instructor (SAI)
After the traditional ceremony at the Manhattan Veterans Cemetery for a wreath laying ceremony on December 17th, a select few cadets traveled to the small town of Pilsen, Kansas which is the hometown of Korean War Medal of Honor awardee, Chaplain Emil Kapaun. There, they placed a wreath on the memorial statue that marks where Chaplain Kapaun was born and grew up.
Chaplain Kapaun entered the priesthood in 1942 and served during WWII, but volunteered to go back into military service when war came again in Korea. He was known for his dedication to the troops and performed his duties of ministering to all Soldiers, oftentimes in conditions that put him at great physical risk. He had already been previously decorated for valor for rescuing wounded Soldiers under enemy fire when his unit of the 1st Cavalry Division was overrun by Chinese forces on November 2, 1950. All able-bodied troops were ordered to escape if they could, but Chaplain Kapaun chose to stay with the wounded and dying, knowing it meant imminent capture and likely death. He literally stepped in front of enemy rifles to prevent helpless wounded from being killed, carried wounded Soldiers on the march to prison camps and then gave of himself constantly for the next several months in the POW camp to bolster morale and give his comrades hope and strength. All of this took it’s toll on him and eventually led to his death due to disease, exposure and malnutrition in the camp “hospital” on May 23, 1951.
Initially awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Chaplain Kapaun’s award was upgraded to the Medal of Honor and presented posthumously by President Obama in 2013. His remains were recently identified and returned to Kansas where he was interred with honors. The Catholic Church is currently in the process of considering him for Sainthood.
Few, if any, have ever demonstrated the Seven Army Values the way that Chaplain Kapaun did.
After placing the wreath, the cadets were treated to a short briefing and tour of the church Chaplain Kapaun called home by Ms. Kelly Streeter Krch, one of the administrators of the museum in Pilsen. “We are very proud that Father Kapaun is from Pilsen”, she said.
The cadets all agreed that it was an honor. “We’ve done this every year I’ve been in JROTC, but it’s great that we’re honoring a true hero who is from right here where we are”, said Cadet Saffron Gonzales, Cadet Battalion Commander of Junction City High School.