Under a ferocious assault from Chinese communists at Unsan, Korea in November 1950, Kapaun repeatedly dodged enemy fire to pull comrades to safety, and to tend to their injuries. When he was ordered to evacuate, he stayed behind to care for the wounded until his capture. Witnessing an enemy soldier aiming his rifle and preparing to execute a wounded American, Kapaun shoved the enemy soldier aside, picked up the wounded man, and carried him for miles on a death march ordered by the communists.
Until his death the following year at a prisoner-of-war camp, Kapaun cared for his fellow prisoners and inspired them by defiantly practicing his faith despite brutal punishment. In presenting the medal last month to Kapaun’s family, President Obama related Kapaun’s celebration of Easter in 1951.
“He held up a small crucifix that he had made from sticks. And as the guards watched, Father Kapaun and all those prisoners—men of different faith, perhaps some men of no faith—sang the Lord’s Prayer and ‘America the Beautiful.’ They sang so loud that other prisoners across the camp not only heard them, they joined in, too—filling that valley with song and with prayer.” Many prisoners of the camp would later credit Kapaun with saving their lives.