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Revered Chaplain's Remains ID'd After 70 Years

Capt. Emil Kapaun, a Medal of Honor recipient, died a POW during Korean War
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 7, 2021 11:01 AM CST

(Newser) – Ever since Capt. Emil Kapaun was reported to have died while being held prisoner in Korea in 1951, his family has been without remains to bury. Although relatives sought answers, the chaplain was among the 7,500 service members unaccounted for from the Korean War, CNN reports. But Kapaun was not forgotten. In the meantime, President Obama awarded Kapaun the Medal of Honor, and the Roman Catholic Church named the priest a servant of God, a process that could someday lead to sainthood. On Thursday, the family received a call from the Army. Kapaun's remains had been identified in Hawaii, where they'd been buried in a cemetery as unknown after the war. Dental records and DNA had been used to confirm the complete remains, per the Washington Post. "At first it was too hard to believe," said Ray Kapaun, the chaplain's nephew, adding, "I was way beyond flabbergasted."

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He shared the news with surviving POWs who were in the camp with his uncle. "Those guys loved him dearly," he said. Emil Kapaun, who also served in the final months of World War II, was put in isolation—without food or water—to die after becoming ill in the camp, per NPR. He was 35. Two months earlier, the priest had celebrated Easter Mass for the prisoners. He'd been captured after staying behind to help the wounded during a battle with Chinese troops in November 1950. After he was taken prisoner, Kapaun saw a Chinese soldier about to kill an American. "He pushed that man's rifle aside, and he picked me up," carrying him at times, Staff Sgt. Herbert Miller later said. Kapaun was from Kansas, where the Wichita diocese holds a 60-mile pilgrimage every year in his honor. A high school is named for him, per the Wichita Eagle. The family hasn't decided where to bury Kapaun or whether to hold a memorial. He was "an American soldier who didn’t fire a gun," Obama said in 2013, "but who [carried] the mightiest weapon of all: the love for his brothers so powerful that he was willing to die so that they might live." (Read more Medal of Honor stories.)

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