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Korean War veteran up for Medal of Honor, sainthood

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Published : 2012-04-22 20:56
Updated : 2012-04-22 20:56

A Korean War veteran may be the first ever to be both awarded the United States’ highest military honor and be made a saint.

Father Emil Kapaun, who served in the Korean War as a U.S. Army Chaplain, has been posthumously nominated to receive the U.S. Medal of Honor and may be canonized for his services here, according to the Wichita Eagle, a daily based in Kansas, U.S., and other media.

Kapaun would be the third American saint and the first to have received a Medal of Honor, awarded only to those who risk their lives beyond the call of duty.
U.S. Army Chaplain Emil Kapaun (right) leads Mass at an impromptu altar set up on his jeep during the Korean War. (BBC News)

U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo is recommending the Kansas native be awarded the honor for his work during the war, both on the battlefield and in the North Korean prison where he spent his last days.

Priests familiar with Kapaun’s story have also asked Vatican officials to investigate whether the Catholic Church should make him a saint for his actions during the Korean War.

Kapaun may have a good chance, considering that his story is packed with heroism and sacrifice.

Soldiers who fought beside Kapaun report that the priest would run up to the front lines amid heavy fire to offer support to soldiers and drag the wounded back.

Other witnesses say that the chaplain chose to stay behind with a unit to get as many of the wounded out before Chinese and North Korean forces closed in on Unsan, North Korea in November 1950.

However, his fellow prisoners of war report that his greatest acts of valor were in the North Korean prison camps.

According to witnesses, Kapaun sanitized water using makeshift pans, handed out his own rations to other soldiers, and inspired soldiers to stay alive during their toughest times before he died in 1951.

“He saved my life, he made me fight to stay alive when dying was so simple; it was easier to die than live in those days,” recounted one soldier in news reports.

By Robert Lee (robert@heraldcorp.com)

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