Kapaun’s nephew, Ray, made the trip from Wichita to Pilsen to deliver the medal, which was given to the family by President Barack Obama in a ceremony April 11 at the White House.
“My dad always wanted to have the medal to bring here,” Ray said. “This is where the medal belongs.”
It was something agreed to by the entire Kapaun family.
Sharing a story about his grandmother, Ray talked about how once or twice a month his family would visit her in Pilsen. His grandfather died when he was young.
Ray said they would come into town and his grandmother, Bessie, would stand on the porch, regardless of the weather, and be waving and happy to see them. With tears, she would wave farewell from the porch because she was sad to see them go.
“From this point on,” Ray said, “the Congressional Medal of Honor is for everyone to see, for everyone to know, and for everyone to remember what Father Emil stood for and what his life was all about.”
Sylvia Bezdek, who knew Father Kapaun during their youth, shared several lighthearted experiences.
Fathers John Hotze and Darrin May challenged the crowd to follow the example of Father Kapaun once they left the church.
Rose Mary Neuwirth was also introduced as the person who was responsible for starting Father Kapaun Day.
Others recognized were Jon Hefley, co-owner of The Lumberyard in Hillsboro, and the Marion Record for their support of the church and security for the new medal.
Father Hotze said a committee is being formed to consider how the land will be used. He recognized the 170 walkers finishing the trek from Wichita to Pilsen, which started Friday.
“It shows your devotion to Father Kapaun,” he said.
Father Kapaun was also remembered through the parish bulletin, which Father Hotze spoke about at the service. In part, he stated serving as a prisoner of war in such a demoralizing situation called for leadership and character.
“Years earlier in his boyhood diary, Kapaun had recognized the importance of setting a good example,” he said. “One of his radio broadcasts from Japan had emphasized the same ideal. Now, this was his chance to live up to his words.
“Whenever the column of POWs paused for a short rest, Kapaun hurried up and down the line, a prayer here, a smile there, exhorting the exhausted men not to give up.
“Sometimes the prisoners were too weary to help the wounded and refused officers’ orders to carry the litters. The men could not be left to die by the snowy wayside, so Kapaun and others shouldered the makeshift stretchers.
“The POWs watched the chaplain struggle to his feet, and his example eventually shamed the recalcitrants into picking up their buddies.”
The Chinese guards were not sympathetic with the POWs and kept yelling and prodding them with bayonets to move faster.
“The prisoners who survived the cruel trek,” Hotze said, “were certain that only Kapaun’s faith in God pushed him on, mile after mile.”