Post office in Kansas receives new name in honor of Father Emil J. Kapaun
Archdiocese of San Antonio
After several years in the making, the United States Post Office in Herington, Kansas, changed its name to the Captain Emil J. Kapaun Post Office Building on May 30. This endeavor was first introduced in 2021 through a bill written by U.S. Rep. Tracey Mann, who wished to honor the life of the great Kansan and American hero.
“Father Emil Kapaun was a man of God who served Jesus and his country honorably,” Mann said during his speech on the House floor on Oct. 20, 2021.
The May 30 ceremonial day began with a memorial Mass at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Herington. The Mass was concelebrated by priests from both the Salina and Wichita dioceses, according to a report from Catholic News Agency.
The renaming dedication ceremony followed at the post office. U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran and Rep. Ron Estes attended the event. The public enjoyed refreshments afterward and visited Kapaun’s Medal of Honor and Taegeuk, the Korean Medal of Honor, which was on display.
Kapaun was born in Pilsen, Kansas, on April 20, 1916. He was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Wichita on June 9, 1940. Four years later, he began at the U.S. Army Chaplain School at Fort Devens (Massachusetts) and was later sent overseas to serve troops during the Korean War.
During his time in Korea, Kapaun regularly celebrated Mass, at times on the battlefield using the hood of a jeep as a makeshift altar. He brought the sacraments to troops, tended to the injured, and prayed with them in the foxholes.
In 1950, during the Battle of Unsan, Kapaun was captured along with other soldiers by communists. They were taken to a prison camp in Pyoktong, North Korea. While in the camp, Kapaun would regularly steal food for his fellow prisoners and managed to tend to their spiritual needs despite a prohibition on prayer.
Kapaun died on May 23, 1951, after months of malnutrition and pneumonia. He was named a Servant of God in 1993, his cause for canonization opened in June 2008, and he received the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama in 2013.
In March 2021, his remains were identified by investigators from the Department of Defense. It was determined that the priest’s remains were among nearly 900 unidentified soldiers buried at the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii.
Kapaun’s remains returned to his hometown of Pilsen in September 2021. Their arrival marked 70 years since the American hero had died in a prisoner of war camp at the age of 35.
During his funeral Mass on Sept. 29, 2021, Bishop Carl Kemme said Kapaun’s ministry as a chaplain was characterized by “a sacrificial and selfless love of others, especially his beloved fellow soldiers … The accounts of his service to his fellow soldiers in those last months, his fellow POWs, reveal so much of the man whose body we honor today with Christian burial. His love was simple, effective, selfless, and deep.”