Father Emil Kapaun, a Catholic priest who served during the Korean War, was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor yesterday. The Medal of Honor is the highest military honor, awarded for personal acts of valor that go above and beyond the call of duty. During the ceremony, President Obama told the powerful story of Father Kapaun’s heroism and how he sustained both the lives and spirits of his fellow soldiers during battle and as prisoners of war.
During a battle in which the American troops were far outnumbered, Father Kapaun raced between foxholes to drag the wounded to safety and even stayed behind after the evacuation had been ordered to comfort the wounded and the dying. President Obama said,
“This is the valor we honor today — 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 was willing to die so that they might live. And yet, the incredible story of Father Kapaun does not end there.”
After the American troops were captured, Father Kapaun carried a wounded soldier for miles on the march to captivity – saving his life. Once in captivity, Father Kapaun tended to the bodily needs of his fellow troops by sharing his clothing and food and by washing their wounds and clothing. He also tended to their spiritual needs through his loving example.
“The guards ridiculed his devotion to his Savior and the Almighty. They took his clothes and made him stand in the freezing cold for hours. Yet, he never lost his faith. If anything, it only grew stronger. At night, he slipped into huts to lead prisoners in prayer, saying the Rosary, administering the sacraments, offering three simple words: ‘God bless you.’ One of them later said that with his very presence he could just for a moment turn a mud hut into a cathedral.”
The conditions of captivity finally took their toll on Father Kapaun, and he died in the camp. Before he died, he told his fellow soldiers “I’m going to where I’ve always wanted to go. And when I get up there, I’ll say a prayer for all of you.” He also blessed the guards saying, “Father, forgive them. For they know not what they do.”
You can read the full story and watch the video of the entire ceremony at the White House web site.