Hagel referenced the current strife which has seized up efforts to recover the remains of Korean War soldiers from North Korea.
"Last year a planned resumption of recovery missions in North Korea was suspended because of provocative actions by that nation's government," he said. "This is a humanitarian mission, and we look forward to the day when conditions permit these operations in North Korea to resume. Today we remain committed to the fullest possible accounting for our missing personnel and bringing closure to their families."
Hagel described Kapaun's efforts that would earn him posthumously the nation's highest award for valor:
¨Father Kapaun was deployed to Korea in July 1950. He was as practical as he was spiritual. His makeshift altar, set up on the hood of a jeep, comforted men of all faiths. Between sermons and baptisms, he wrote letters home on behalf of the wounded and helped dig latrines. His compassion and hard work won over even the most hardened infantrymen.
Kapaun was a regular on the front lines – darting through the gunfire to save those he could and offering comfort to those he could not. Kapaun repeatedly dismissed calls to retreat and instead set up a makeshift clinic just behind the front lines – until he was captured by the enemy.
Father Kapaun would die as a prisoner of war, but not before he served as a leader to thousands of men trapped along with him. Men of all faiths and men of no faith turned to him for strength and for survival – he counseled them all. Father Kapaun stole food, built pots and pans from scrap tin, and gave away bits of clothes – all simply to keep his men alive. Gradually his health deteriorated, but he continued to offer counsel to his fellow soldiers. Long after his death, Father Kapaun still inspired the men around him to hold out hope for a better life. Many of the POWs held captive with him credit Kapaun with keeping them alive. We are honored to have some of these men and their families here with us today.¨