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Tiahrt: Kapaun to get Medal of Honor

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- A Roman Catholic priest from Kansas will be awarded the nation's highest military award for bravery for his actions during the Korean War, according to former Kansas Congressman Todd Tiahrt.

Tiahrt told The Wichita Eagle (http://bit.ly/WhMJyP ) that Emil Kapaun will be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by President Obama in April. Tiahrt also posted a letter from a Pentagon official on his Facebook page, saying that Kapaun will be honored April 12 at the Pentagon.

Kapaun, a priest from Pilsen who died in 1951, has been celebrated for his actions during the Korean War. The Vatican has also classified Kapaun as a Servant of God, a step in the process to sainthood.

The Pentagon is expected to invite several of Kapaun's fellow former prisoners of war to attend the ceremony. They survived horrific conditions in the prison camp after they were captured in battles against the Chinese Army in late 1950, shortly after China entered the Korean War.

Kapaun grew up in Pilsen, in Marion County, and served there as a parish priest before joining the Army. He served in World War II and in Korea before he was captured. Kapaun died at the prisoner of war camp hospital seven months after he was first taken captive by the Chinese in 1950.

After the war, the prisoners of the 8th Cavalry Regiment spoke of how Kapaun, an Army chaplain, continued to look after his men even though he was wounded and sick himself. Risking his own life, Kapaun would sneak out after dark to scrounge food for the weaker soldiers, fashion makeshift containers to collect water and wash their clothes.

The Pentagon and the White House were expected to announce a possible Medal of Honor ceremony later this month. But the news became public after Tiahrt's Facebook post. Sen. Pat Roberts, Rep. Mike Pompeo and Sen. Jerry Moran, all Kansas Republicans, said in a news release Friday night that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has recommended that Kapaun receive the medal.

Pompeo said he was not happy that Tiahrt posted the Pentagon letter. He said Tiahrt had worked hard to help Kapaun's cause but that the White House should have been allowed to make the announcement.

Wichita Diocese officials said Friday they could not comment on Friday's developments, saying any statements would have to come from the Pentagon or the White House.

Tiahrt left Congress in 2010 after deciding not to seek re-election and lost the Republican U.S. Senate primary to Moran. Tiahrt spent years working on legislation to enable Kapaun to be awarded the medal. There were restrictions at the time that specified that the medal had to be awarded for heroics that had happened only a few years before. Pompeo, Roberts and Moran finally got that legislation passed in December 2011.

Tiahrt said Friday that his most significant regret about his nearly 20 years in Washington was failing to see the medal awarded while he was still in Congress.