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US soldiers march through Camp Humphreys to honor Korean War Medal of Honor recipient

A soldier is encouraged to the finish line during the annual Kapaun Memorial Ruck March at Camp Humphreys, South Korea, Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017.

MARCUS FICHTL/STARS AND STRIPES

By MARCUS FICHTL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 2, 2017

CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea — A ruck march though the home of 8th Army was a chance for 1st Cavalry Division troops to honor Army chaplain and Korean War Medal of Honor recipient Capt. Emil Kapaun.

Soldiers from the Fort Hood, Texas-based unit slogged 18.6 miles through Camp Humphreys Thursday morning, 67 years after Kapaun, a chaplain from the division’s 8th Cavalry Regiment, marched 87 miles to a North Korean prison camp.

The second annual Kapaun Memorial Ruck March was an “opportunity to remember one of the heroes of the 1st Cavalry Division,” said brigade chaplain Maj. Jason Palmer.

Kapaun’s heroics begin during the Battle of Unsan, 35 miles north of Pyongyang, when he ignored withdrawal orders and tended to the wounded during a Chinese onslaught. He negotiated a surrender after U.S. lines were broken and sacrificed his body caring for his comrades during a bitterly cold Korean winter.

Kapaun died in captivity seven months later, and was posthumously awarded the nation’s highest military honor in 2013. He is the only chaplain to receive the Medal of Honor during the Korean War, and the Vatican is considering him for sainthood.

The Humphreys march was originally 8.7 miles, a 10th of the distance Kapaun walked. This year it was lengthened to make participants eligible for the Norwegian Army’s “Marsjmerket” (foot-march badge), earned by 224 of the 276 participants. The fastest time was 3 hours, 5 minutes and 18 seconds.

One of the marchers, Capt. Hyung Choi, 39, a chaplain in Kapaun’s old unit, said he wouldn’t have been able to participate in this year’s event if not for his predecessor.

As Kapaun was taking the fight north, Choi’s family fled south. His father, then a young boy, told Choi stories about a time of chaos with bombs dropping in rice paddies near his home and an escape through mountains under the cover of darkness.

“He would hide in the ditches during the bombings, covered in dirt, then stand up hours later and continue moving,” Choi said.

After the war, Choi’s father moved to Buenos Aires as a missionary. Those war stories inspired Choi to gain U.S. citizenship and join the Army.

Choi said he marched for the same reasons as Kapaun.

“We both came to serve God, the nation and its soldiers,” he said. “I do feel a weight on my shoulders to follow his footsteps, but at the same time I’m honored to be part of his legacy.”

fichtl.marcus@stripes.com
Twitter: @MarcusFichtl

Capt. Lauren Ulmer nears the finish line of an 18.6-mile march at Camp Humphreys, South Korea, Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017.
MARCUS FICHTL/STARS AND STRIPES

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