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Catholic Diocese Of Wichita Announces Funeral Mass Plans For Father Emil Kapaun

Catholic Diocese of Wichita

The Catholic Diocese of Wichita has announced funeral arrangements for Father Emil Kapaun.

The diocese said Tuesday that it will hold a funeral Mass for Kapaun on Wednesday, Sept. 29, in Hartman Arena. A vigil will be held the day before at the arena in Park City, which can hold up to 6,500 people.

Kapaun's remains will be returned from Hawaii on Sept. 25. His family and diocese officials — and likely military officials — will accompany them.

The remains will first be taken to Pilsen, Kapaun's hometown in Marion County, for a few days before returning to Wichita for the funeral service. Kapaun served as a parish priest in Pilsen before joining the Army as a chaplain during World War II.

Kapaun died in 1951 in a North Korean prisoner of war camp at the age of 35. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroics on the battlefield and is being considered for sainthood by the Catholic Church for his actions in the camp.

Wichita Bishop Carl Kemme says Kapaun served all of the prisoners there, regardless of their faith.

"He didn't ask them whether they were Catholic," Kemme said. "He didn't ask them any questions.

"He just saw a human being, and he did whatever he could, in those dire circumstances, to help them in their dignity, to help them be strong in the midst of such a challenging experience.

"That human love is stronger than death."

When Kapaun died in the camp, he was buried in a shallow grave. But his unidentified remains, along with those of other soldiers, were returned to the U.S. shortly after the end of the Korean War. They were buried at the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii, informally known as the "Punchbowl."

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, part of the U.S. Department of Defense, maintains a laboratory near the Punchbowl where it helps identify remains.

In March, Kapaun's family said his remains had been found using dental records and DNA from his brother, Eugene Kapaun.

Emil Kapaun was born in 1916. He was ordained into the priesthood in 1940 at what is now Newman University.

After World War II, he returned to Kansas to serve as a parish priest. He enlisted again and was among the first troops that landed in Korea after war broke out in June 1950.

He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at the Battle of Unsan. It was presented to his family by President Barack Obama in 2013. During the battle, as American forces pulled back, Kapaun declined to retreat and stayed behind with the wounded soldiers.

His actions in the prisoner of war camp led the Vatican to name Kapaun a Servant of God in 1993, the first step in the long process to sainthood.

As soon as next month, Vatican officials could name Kapaun as venerable, the next step in the journey to sainthood. That step has been delayed because the pandemic has halted most activities at the Vatican over the past year.

Tom joined KMUW in 2017 after spending 37 years with The Wichita Eagle where he held a variety of reporting and editing roles. He also is host of The Range, KMUW’s weekly show about where we live and the people who live here. Tom is a board member of the Public Media Journalists Association, serving as small station representative, a volunteer coach for League 42 and an adjunct instructor in the Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University.