Kapaun, served in India from 1944 to 1946, returning to the states to earn an M.A. in Education from the Catholic University of Washington, and re-enlisted in 1948. In 1950 Kapaun, along with the 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, was sent to South Korea along the Pusan perimeter, where they pushed northward.
In November 1950, Kapaun and his regiment were overrun by Chinese forces. The Army ordered a retreat, but Kapaun stayed behind to tend to the wounded and ultimately resulted in him being captured.
Starving and frost-bitten, he continued to care for wounded soldiers despite Chinese troops ordering him to leave them behind to die. He would risk his life to prevent the executions of soldiers too injured to march. He gave away his rations and stole food, tea and medicine from the Chinese guards in order to serve the other POWs.
Kapaun and the soldiers marched 87 miles to their prison camp near Pyoktong in North Korea. Kapaun died of dysentery and pneumonia after a final Easter mass in 1951. He was 35.
Capt. Kapaun was highly decorated. He was awarded the following medals for his actions in both wars:
- Distinguished Service Cross
- Legion of Merit
- Bronze Star Medal
- Purple Heart
- Prisoner of War Medal
- American Campaign Medal
- Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with One Campaign Star
- World War II Victory Medal
- National Defense Service Medal
- Korean Service Medal with Two Campaign Stars
- United Nations Korea Medal
- Republic of Korea War Service Medal
- Presidential Unit Citation, U.S. Army
- Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation
He will be awarded the Medal of Honor April 11. It may not be the last time his life’s work will be recognized. A Servant of God to the Catholic Church, he is also a candidate for sainthood.