Sixty-two years after his death, Chaplain Emil J. Kapaun will be receiving the nation’s highest military award for valor, the Medal of Honor, on Thursday, April 11, by President Barack Obama.
The White House ceremony, said Father John Hotze, judicial vicar for the Wichita Diocese, will be at 1:10 p.m. and the Pentagon ceremony is scheduled for 1 p.m on Friday, April 12.
“I have also been told that there will be live feeds at the White House website by going to www.whitehouse.gov/ for the ceremony on Thursday and at www.pentagon.mil/ for the induction into the hall of heroes at the Pentagon on Friday,” he said.
During the ceremony with Obama, Kapaun’s family, according to a recent press release, plans to give the Medal of Honor to Pilsen, which is the Kapaun’s hometown.
Credited with saving hundreds of lives during the Korean War, Kapaun is also a candidate for sainthood.
In addition to family member Ray Kapaun, who is the chaplain’s nephew, other POWs and soldiers who advocated that Kapaun receive the medal will also be at the ceremony.
Rose Mary Neuwirth, who has been strong supporter of Kapaun, said the medal is “a long time coming.”
Neuwirth said many people have been working on this for many years.
“When we first started on this,” she said, “I went to a POW reunion in Arizona and there was a Col. Latham from Fort Leavenworth who was doing a history on the Korean War and specifically on Father Kapaun.”
Latham, she said, wrote to the Pentagon with his mission of getting the Medal of Honor for Kapaun.
“Originally, the Medal of Honor had to be done five years after death,” she said.
Another concern was that Father Kapaun surrendered, but at that time, she said, the medal wasn’t given to anybody who surrendered—no matter what the circumstances.
“He surrendered to save the soldiers lives that were wounded,” she said.
After making it over that hurdle, there was still the issue of five years after someone’s death.
But, when another solider who was still alive received a medal (over the five-year timeline), she said, Kapaun again qualified.
“Parts were rewritten and it was submitted, but didn’t pass because we didn’t have right credentials on it,” she said.
Sen. Todd Tiahart presented it in the correct way and it went through, Neuwirth said, but then a statement wasn’t right.
“It got kicked back, Tiahart lost his seat and we knew it was sitting for a long time waiting for Obama.”
After the news broke a month ago that Father Kapaun would receive the medal, Neuwirth said two people from Soldiers Magazine in Maryland have been to Pilsen and a Pentagon reporter for NBC news.
“We (myself, husband and daughter) will be in Washington for the ceremony, along with the Bishop of Wichita, Father Hotze, Carol Sklenar and a few others,” she said.
Kapaun served with the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy at Unsan, Korea, and as a prisoner of war from Nov. 1-2, 1950.