Obama to Award Medal of Honor To Korean War POW

Fallen Army chaplain credited with saving comrades' lives in Chinese prison camp.


In this undated photo, Father Emil Kapaun, a Catholic priest and Army chaplain, shows his pipe which was shot ouy of his mouth by a sniper during the Korean conflict.

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The White House announced Monday it will bestow the Medal of Honor to a deceased Korean War veteran, exactly a month after President Barack Obama awarded the nation's highest military award for valor to Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha for his combat bravery in Afghanistan.

The family of Army Captain Emil J. Kapaun, a Roman Catholic chaplain, will receive the honor at a ceremony at the White House. Kapaun died in captivity after serving in the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment of the 1st Cavalry Division during a battle in Unsan, Korea, in early November 1950.

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He will become the seventh Army chaplain to be awarded the medal.

A White House media release describes the events leading up to a final encounter in which Kapaun saved the life of one of his fellow soldiers after both were being held in a Chinese prison camp.

"When Chinese Communist Forces viciously attacked friendly elements, Chaplain Kapaun calmly walked through withering enemy fire in order to provide comfort and medical aid to his comrades. When they found themselves surrounded by the enemy, the able-bodied men were ordered to evacuate. Chaplain Kapaun, fully aware of his certain capture, elected to stay behind with the wounded. As hand-to-hand combat ensued, he continued to make rounds. As enemy forces approached the American position, Chaplain Kapaun noticed an injured Chinese officer amongst the wounded and convinced him to negotiate the safe surrender of the American forces. Shortly after his capture, Chaplain Kapaun bravely pushed aside an enemy soldier preparing to execute a comrade, thus saving a life and inspiring all those present to remain and fight the enemy until captured."

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Kapaun, born in 1916, was also a World War II veteran. He was ordained in 1940 and joined the Chaplain Corps in 1944. He died in captivity on May 23, 1951, according to MilitaryTimes.com. Several veterans who were held as prisoners of war with Kapaun have campaigned for decades for their comrade to receive the award, reports the Kansas City Star.

"I am very pleased it is finally happening, and happening while some of the folks who knew him under the trying circumstances in the North Korean prison camp in that first winter are still alive to give testament to his achievements," Mike Dowe, one of Kapaun's comrades, told the Star.

Obama will give the award to Kapaun's nephew, Ray Kapaun, and other members of his family at a ceremony on April 11.

Staff Sgt. Romesha, a native of Minot, N.D., is the most recent recipient of the medal. He is credited with helping to repel a force of 300 Taliban insurgents while serving at Combat Outpost Keating in eastern Afghanistan during an intense firefight.

Roughly 25,000 Army chaplains have served in more than 270 wars and combat engagements since the creation of the military branch in 1775, according to the Army's official website.

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