Fr. Emil Kapaun’s remains have been returned to Kansas, where a funeral Mass was held for the Servant of God. A crowd gathered in Wichita to pay their respects to the Medal of Honor recipient. He was later laid to rest at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
It was a day no one in Kansas thought would ever come. For more than 70 years, the location of Fr. Kapaun’s remains was unknown. It was not until 2021 that his remains were identified during the U.S. government’s ongoing Korean War Disinterment Project. Fr. Kapaun, it was found, had been resting in a Hawaiian military cemetery since the 1950s.
Fr. Kapaun’s mortal remains were returned to Wichita with all the pomp of a returning war hero. For indeed, Fr. Kapaun was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, in 2013. Military representatives bore the flag-draped casket on a horse-drawn carriage through the town to Hartman Arena, where his funeral service was held. According to KSN News, thousands gathered for the event, as can be seen in the video above.
Father David Lies, Vicar General of the Diocese of Wichita, was on hand to give a touching homily. A natural orator, Fr. Lies wove local and Catholic humor into his address as he remembered the many great deeds of the deceased. He told the story of when the diocese first learned that Fr. Kapaun’s remains had been discovered:
“I remember the day that Bishop Kemme was called out of a meeting that we were having at the chancery … The Bishop came back into the office and there was a slight flush to his face, and he said ‘You can’t tell anyone this yet. They found Fr. Kapaun.’ There was a pulse that went through the room and he had to repeat it again ‘They found Fr. Kapaun.'”
Fr. Lies went on to note that at the time he and his fellow priests had thought it was more likely that Fr. Kapaun had been named a saint. They never dreamed that Fr. Kapaun’s remains would be identified after seven decades. The Vicar General went on to call the revelation a blessing, especially after several years of world pandemic and social conflict.
Fr. Kapaun’s pipe
In his homily, the priest went on to remember Fr. Kapaun’s love of cigars and how he smoked a pipe, which he was often photographed with. He highlighted one photo in which Fr. Kapaun, in his military helmet, holds up a broken pipe. The pipe was hit by sniper fire that was most likely meant for the priest.
Fr. Kapaun’s predilection for tobacco continued even in his captivity, where he somehow was able to smuggle in his broken pipe. Fr. Lies recalled a tale of how he used it to bring some comfort to his fellow prisoners, after he was captured and sent to a North Korean POW camp.
“As POW Herb Miller shared with us so evocatively this afternoon, he remembers Fr. Kapaun sneaking into the barracks of the enlisted men. He would bring that broken pipe with him, filled with tobacco, light it and allow everyone to take a puff, just to have a simple creature comfort in such harsh conditions.
“When he was able to obtain smuggled tobacco from the Koreans on the other side of the compound he would often give that tobacco to the POWs and he would smoke dried oak leaves instead. Just a sign of everything that he was willing to give his boys.”
Fr. Lies admitted that this seems mundane, but he explained that it “reveals a quality about father that was noticed and mentioned repeatedly by so many who knew him.” This, in fact, was that he was a normal man, a “man’s man” as some called him, and a priest who put his flock before himself.
“Belying his education and intelligence, Fr. Kapaun easily related to all his soldiers from all walks of life and backgrounds.” Fr. Lies remarked, “You would have never known that he had an advanced degree from the Catholic University of America.”
A model priest
During his time as a POW, Fr. Kapaun continued to tend to the spiritual needs of his men. This task he completed even in the face of torture and “brainwashing tactics of his captors,” which he resisted. This example, Fr. Lies said, was inspirational to him as a priest and a model which he strives to emulate. Fr. Lies said:
“Chaplain Emil Kapaun put his life on the line as a good shepherd against the wolf and protected the flock of his captured soldiers, whom he tended, to the giving of his very life. He struck fear in the hearts of his atheistic tormentors who could not best his arguments or his logic against their false atheistic beliefs. They trembled at the divine grace that came from the words of this humble priest, who kept the fire of hope alive in the hearts of his men.”
The entire Mass can be viewed in the video above. Fr. Lies’s excellent homily begins at about the 51-minute mark. Then, take a look at the video below to see the military procession that ushered Fr. Kapaun’s remains to a new resting place, within a newly made altar of repose at Wichita’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.