North Korea POW Rev. Emil Joseph Kapaun remembered for unwavering strength with U.S. Army

Alice Mannette
The Hutchinson News

After 70 years, the Rev. Emil Joseph Kapaun, who garners the most medals for a U.S. Army chaplain, was buried in the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception in Wichita on Wednesday.

Kapaun, a prisoner of war in North Korea, where he died in 1951, was known for his courage and faith. In 2013, President Barack Obama awarded him the Medal of Honor for his bravery and service. Kapaun, who is up for sainthood in Rome, was born in Pilsen, Kansas. 

Thousands of clergy and congregants crowded into Hartman Arena on Wednesday morning, to witness the Rite of Christian Burial of Kapaun.

Bishop Carl Kemme, of the Catholic Diocese of Wichita, led the service. Choirs from West Point and the U.S. Air Force, as well as Kapaun Mount Carmel and Bishop Carroll high schools sang during the service. 

Six bishops, including Bishop Jerry Vincke, of Salina, and those representing Alaska, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Missouri and Washington, D.C., were in attendance. Also there were priests, seminarians, Kapaun's family and prisoners of war who served with him.

More:Remains of The Rev. Emil Joseph Kapaun, a Korean War Medal of Honor recipient, return to Kansas after 70 years

Bishop Carl Kemme, center, prays over the remains of the Rev. Emil Kapaun during his funeral at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday in Hartman Arena in Park City. Kapaun's remains were returned to Kansas earlier this week.

For U.S. Army Chaplain Stephen Guziec, being at Kapaun's funeral was inspirational. According to Guziec, all chaplains learn of the Rev. Kapaun during training. 

"When he was sitting naked, being tortured, he was still raising his voice to God," Guziec said. "He's a modern day example of how to be a saint no matter what is going on."

After the pall bearers from Fort Hood walked the casket to the alter, the casket was draped, incense was burned and prayers were offered. 

"Something was special about Emile Joseph Kapaun. He was humble, obedient, virtuous and hard working," Kemme said. "It has been said, he had the softness of velvet but the strength of iron."

Kapaun's remains were delivered, driven by horse and carriage, to the Cathedral in Wichita. Thousand of Catholic middle school children from parishes across central and southeastern Kansas lined the streets of Wichita, kneeling when the casket was taken into the Cathedral. Kapaun's casket will enter the tomb, which was made for him this summer, in the sanctuary.

More:The Rev. Emil Kapaun’s body was in an unmarked grave for years. Now the POW is coming home to Kansas.

The Diocese of Wichita has gathered documentation of miracles ascribed to Kapaun. They are now awaiting word from Rome as to whether he will become a saint.

"We now have a place to be to pray for his mortal remains," Kemme said. "One day soon, we will be able to call him a saint."