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The remains of Fr. Emil Kapaun, a military chaplain during the Korean War, were recently identified in a mass grave in Hawaii. According to the Military Times, “Kapaun was identified on Mar. 2 … His remains were among the 867 buried as ‘Unknowns’ at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii.” These remains were moved to Hawaii from sites in North Korea during the 1950s and 1990s.
This was part of “the Korean War Disinterment Project, initiated in 2018 … a seven-phase plan to disinter and identify all of the Korean war remains” in Hawaii.
Bishop Carl Kemme explained to KWCH in Wichita that this marks an important step in Kapaun’s canonization process.
In our Catholic tradition, the body of who we think may be saints is very important to us. The human person is a union of body and soul, so the body is a temple of the soul … So they’re sacred, the body is sacred. To have that material, concrete remains is really an important development I think.
This was also the thought of Ray Kapaun, the uncle of Fr. Kapaun, when speaking to The Wichita Eagle.
I think a lot of people are going to look at this and say, “Well, okay, now sainthood is more of a possibility just because this happened” because nobody, nobody thought this would really ever happen.
During the Korean War, Fr. Emil Kapaun was the Catholic chaplain assigned to the 3rd Battalion of the 8th Cavalry. Father Kapaun became well-known after the war for running from foxhole to foxhole, dragging out the wounded and giving Last Rites to the dying. He was eventually captured and died in a prison camp on May 23, 1951.
After his death he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Bronze Star and many others. In 1993, Fr. Kapaun was declared a Servant of God by Pope John Paul II.
Kapaun’s body will eventually be brought back home, where a funeral will be held and his body will at last have a resting place. It is possible his body will be interred at a shrine that will honor his life and legacy. No concrete plans have been made at this point.
Father Emil Kapaun, the saint in the foxhole