"If we were in the same position as Father, our focus would be on 'how am I going to survive?'" he says. "For Father Kapaun it was 'how am I going to help other people to survive?' That sums up his life."
Ray Kapaun was born after his uncle died, but he grew up hearing about him from his grandmother.
"In everything that Emil did, he led by example," Ray Kapaun says. "He wasn't a preachy person. He never expected anything from anybody that he wouldn't do himself."
The medal, he says, is both a family honor and a history lesson.
"It's a huge validation but it's almost an opportunity for a lot more people to know and see what kind of man he really was," he says. "I still read stories about him and get teared-up about what he did."
Ray Kapaun, now 56, will accept the medal on his family's behalf. He'll be joined by two other nephews and a niece of the chaplain. Kansas political leaders, Latham, the historian, Hotze, others members of the Wichita Diocese and the Pilsen parish will be there, too.
And, of course, the POWs.
This day, Ray Kapaun says, would never have arrived without their persistence. Some didn't live to witness the ceremony, but others will finally see their beloved chaplain given the recognition they've called for so long.
"What he did and what he meant is so important," Dowe says. "It's worth finding a way to carry that forward. ... I can only say I'm glad it's happening. It's a shame it couldn't have been sooner."
Sharon Cohen is a Chicago-based national writer. She can be reached at scohen(at)ap.org. Tamara Lush in Tampa contributed to this report.
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