Hundreds pay tribute to Father Emil, a prisoner of conflict whose stays have just lately returned from Hawaii
WICHITA, Kan. >> Thousands of people came to Wichita today to honor a Kansas priest who was buried in a POW camp during the Korean War 70 years after his death.
Mourners filled the Hartman Arena for a memorial service for Rev. Emil Kapaun and later lined the streets to watch his body being carried by a horse-drawn caisson from Veterans Memorial Park to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, where it was buried.
“We are here today to provide for Father what was not provided for him 70 years ago, a Christian funeral,” Bishop Carl A. Kemme of the Diocese of Wichita told the crowd.
The speakers praised Capon for his Christian love and courage during his prison or wartime days, which he spent comforting his comrades. They also said it was appropriate for his body to finally return to the state in which it was born.
“Uncle Emil, welcome home. Finally home, ”said Kapaun’s nephew Ray Kapaun during the service.
He praised his uncle’s prisoners of war who survived the war and the residents of Pilsen, where Kapaun was born, who, in his opinion, helped keep the priest’s story alive in the decades since his death.
Kapaun, an Army chaplain, was captured near Unsan, North Korea, in 1950 while looking after his comrades. He died in the POW camp in May 1951 while continuing to take care of fellow prisoners. In 2013 he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
In 1993 the Catholic Church named him “Servant of God”, the first step in a lengthy process that could lead to canonization.
Capon’s remains were positively identified in March and returned to his family during a ceremony in Hawaii last week. The body was flown back to Kansas, where more crowds gathered for a memorial service in Pilsen on Saturday before his remains were returned to Wichita.
During the funeral, Rev. Matthew Pawlikowski read a statement from Col. Mike Dowe explaining how Kapaun volunteered to tend the wounded before he was captured. He said Kapaun stole food at the POW camp, volunteered to bury the dead so he could provide clothing for the survivors, and constantly encouraged them to hold on to their beliefs.
Dowe said Kapaun was deliberately let to die in what was known as the “death house” by Chinese communists, reflecting his belief as a Christian. You married him. “
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly proclaimed father Emil Kapaun Day in the state today. She said in a statement: “He has served with honor and dignity, I hope his return home brings relief and closure to his family and community.”