Renaming followed federal law signed by President Biden in 2022.
The U.S. post office in Herington, Kansas, was renamed on Tuesday to honor the memory of Fr. Emil J. Kapaun, a Catholic military chaplain during the Korean War who died in captivity.
The renaming came about through a law signed by President Biden last year, which had been introduced by Kansas Republican Congressman Tracey Mann and Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas.
“I’m proud to have led legislation through Congress that renames the Herington Post Office in honor of Fr. Kapaun,” Mann said Tuesday. “On the day after Memorial Day, it was particularly meaningful to gather with Kansans to celebrate the life and legacy of Fr. Kapaun, a man of God who showed incredible bravery and selflessness in his service.”
The renaming ceremony was preceded by a memorial Mass at St. John the Evangelist Church in Herington. Members of the Kapaun family joined members of the Herington community to celebrate the occasion.
“My prayers are with the Kapaun family as we celebrate Fr. Kapaun’s life and service,” Mann said. “It is an honor for me to recognize his faithfulness and bravery today. Jesus said, ‘Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.’ May the Captain Emil J. Kapaun Post Office Building in Herington serve as a reminder of that great love, and as an inspiration to do likewise for generations to come.”
Fr. Kapaun grew up on a farm in Kansas, the son of Czech immigrants. He was ordained in 1940 and served as a pastor at the parish where he grew up until 1944, when his bishop gave him permission to become an Army chaplain. He first served in the Burma Theater during World War II, then in 1949 he was sent to Japan.
During the Korean War Battle of Unsan, Kapaun was serving with the 3rd Battalion of the 8th Cavalry Regiment when his unit faced a much larger Chinese division. During the battle, he put himself at great risk in order to provide comfort and reassurance to soldiers, dragging wounded men to safety or shielding them in shallow ditches. Refusing several chances to escape, he was taken as a prisoner of war on Nov. 2, 1950.
Kapaun and the wounded men with him joined hundreds of other American prisoners on a forced march to a POW camp near Pyoktong.
The following Easter, Kapaun led a sunrise service for the POWs. But, spending himself for his men under harsh conditions, the priest’s health grew worse and worse, and he was left to die of malnutrition and pneumonia.
In 1993, though his remains still had not been identified, Fr. Kapaun was named a “Servant of God,” permitting his cause for canonization to begin.
His remains were identified in 2021 by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency of the Department of Defense and brought back to Kansas after lying in a mass grave in Hawaii. Along with hundreds of other servicemen who died in Korea, they had been moved to Hawaii from sites in North Korea during the 1950s and 1990s.
Fr. Kapaun is interred in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Wichita, Kansas.