Wichita priest and U.S. Army chaplain Fr. Emil Kapaun heroically saved wounded sounders from the battlefield of the Korean War and ministered to his fellow prisoners in a prison camp. His life, death and possible beatification are the focus of an eight article series and a DVD being produced by the Wichita Eagle.
During the Korean War the Kansas-born Fr. Kapaun was assigned to the U.S. Army's Eighth Cavalry regiment, which was overrun in late 1951 by the Chinese army in North Korea.
Kapaun courageously rescued wounded soldiers from the battlefield, risking his own life to save them from execution by the Chinese. Later taken as a prisoner of war, he heroically worked to tend to the starving and sick, praying for and ministering to his fellow prisoners.
Eventually suffering a blood clot in his leg, Kapaun was moved to a hospital but was denied medical assistance. He died in May 1951, two years before the end of the war.
Surviving soldiers have praised Kapaun for his courage and faith. His story has been celebrated in Wichita for years, with local parishes praying to him and a Wichita high school named after him.
On Sunday the Wichita Eagle, a non-religious newspaper, began running its eight-part series “The Miracle of Father Kapaun.” An accompanying DVD on the life of Fr. Kapaun runs for 50 minutes and includes interviews of prisoners of war who knew Fr. Kapaun, church officials, people from the priest’s hometown, and Kear and his family.
Reporter Roy Wenzl and videographer Travis Heying are among the Eagle staff working on the series.
Eagle deputy editor Tom Shine wrote that the work of Wenzl, Heying and others will “finally provide a much better sense of who Kapaun was and why we continue to be touched by his legacy.”
The cause for his beatification is currently considering the unexplained recovery of Chase Kear, a young Kansas man severely injured in an October, 2008 pole vaulting accident.
Kear’s accident fractured his skull from ear to ear and caused some bleeding on his brain. Doctors told his parents their son would likely die either in surgery to remove the damaged piece of his skull or from a post-surgery infection.
Family and friends joined in petitions to Fr. Kapaun. Kear survived the surgery and walked out of the hospital only a few weeks out of the accident. Doctors were unable to explain the recovery, which many believed to be miraculous.
An investigator for the Vatican interviewed doctors and Kear’s family members. He reportedly had never seen doctors make “such a compelling case” for the occurrence of miracles.
Fr. Kapaun has also been recommended by the Secretary of the Army for the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest military honor of the United States.
The Wichita Eagle’s series of stories and two trailers for its documentary “The Miracle of Fr. Kapaun” can be seen at the website http://www.kansas.com/kapaun/
The Diocese of Wichita has scheduled several showings of the documentary between Dec. 13 and Feb. 2 and public television station KPTS plans several airings between Dec. 22 and Jan. 25.