Monument unveiled in Korea for Medal of Honor recipient Emil Kapaun
By ASHLEY ROWLAND | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 29, 2014
SEOUL, South Korea — A chaplain who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for refusing to abandon troops during combat finally has been recognized with a monument in the country where he died more than six decades ago.
The dark gray granite stone, erected by U.S. Army Garrison Daegu in front of the Camp Walker chapel, includes an image of Capt. Emil Kapaun supporting an injured soldier and the inscription, “He paid the ultimate sacrifice and consecrated the soul of Korea.” The monument, about four feet tall, was unveiled Dec. 19.
It’s the first memorial on the Korean peninsula for Kapaun, who died in a prisoner of war camp in May 1951 after being captured at Unsan the previous November. Although U.S. forces were surrounded and ordered to evacuate, the Roman Catholic priest stayed behind to comfort the wounded, despite the certainty of capture, and made rounds even as hand-to-hand combat broke out between U.S. and Chinese troops.
“We need inspiration and motivation to continue to serve the country,” deputy garrison chaplain Maj. Moon Kim said of Kapaun’s legacy. “People get easily discouraged or demotivated. But we see those forefathers who have gone before us and died, and they inspire us.”
The chaplain, a native of Pilsen, Kan., was awarded the Medal of Honor in April 2013.
“This is the valor we honor today,” President Barack Obama said during the award ceremony, “an American soldier who didn’t fire a gun, but who wielded the mightiest weapon of all: a love for his brothers so pure that he is willing to die so that they might live.”
After being captured, Kapaun pushed aside a Chinese soldier who was about to execute a U.S. soldier, saving his life, according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. Before contracting dysentery and pneumonia and suffering from a blood clot in his leg, Kapaun ministered to other soldiers in the POW camp.
Kim said few South Koreans know Kapaun’s story, though some American troops have heard of him through spots on the American Forces Network or seen his picture in the Camp Walker chapel.
Kapaun Barracks and Kapaun Chapel in Kaiserslautern were named after the chaplain in 1955. Both have since been transferred to the Air Force and renamed Kapaun Air Station. A bust of the chaplain is also located outside the chapel.
Kapaun, whose body is thought to be buried in a mass grave, is being considered by the Vatican for sainthood.
Kim said the priest’s life is an inspiration for military chaplains, “especially when we deploy or go to other places.”
“He gave his life,” he said, so Kapaun is a motivation “to not complain, to do your best. We all need those kinds of heroes.”