Lieutenant continues legacy started by great uncle, Medal of Honor recipient
By Maj. Khalid Cannon, 380th Air Expeditionary Wing
/ Published March 25, 2014
SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) -- Facing a wave of enemy Communist forces, and knowing that staying behind would likely lead to his capture, Army Chaplain (Capt.) Emil J. Kapaun disregarded the evacuation order and willingly risked his life to tend to the wounded.
Kapaun, according to numerous battlefield accounts from the Korean War, convinced a wounded Chinese officer to order a cease-fire, saving his men from certain death.
He and wounded members of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment were taken captive and led on a death march to a Prisoner of War camp. Those who were too badly wounded to march were immediately executed.
When he saw an enemy soldier preparing to execute Army Sergeant 1st Class Herbert Miller, Kapaun pushed the soldier aside, saved Miller's life and helped carry him the rest of the way. During his six months as a POW, Kapaun routinely risked his life to sneak food and hot water to his fellow POWs, and continued to serve the men he considered his flock.
Ignoring hunger and his own comfort, Kapaun willingly gave his rations and extra clothing to other Soldiers, and provided continuous spiritual care and guidance, even when threatened by his captors.
Kapaun died in captivity after contracting numerous debilitating illnesses.
On April 11, 2013, Air Force 1st Lt. Kristina Roberts, an Air National Guard air weapons officer who deployed to the 727th Expeditionary Air Control Squadron, attended the White House ceremony where Kapaun, her great uncle, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
Her grandfather told numerous stories when she was growing up, and the family attended annual events honoring Kapaun in his hometown of Pilsen, Kan.
"There hasn't been a day that I have not thought of my great uncle, especially when I was going through all my military training," Roberts said, who is deployed from the 134th Air Control Squadron in Wichita, Kan.
According to Roberts, the men who Kapaun cared for during their imprisonment worked for decades to get recognition for him.
Roberts, who was an enlisted surveillance technician for nine years, received her commission in December 2010 and went through the nine-month air battle manager technical school, and an additional two months of follow-on training.
Throughout her 13-year Air Force career, Roberts has held numerous civilian positions that have given her the opportunity to serve others.
"In 2006, I worked at a restaurant as a server and working my way up to a manager in less than a year," Roberts said. "In 2008, I received my bachelor's degree in broadcast journalism and in less than a year I worked my way up to marketing director for a local television station in Wichita."
Roberts obtained her master's degree in exercise science in 2011 and after completing military training, began working as a personal trainer at a YMCA in Wichita.
"I chose to work at the 'Y' because I really believe in its mission of helping the community and making a difference," Roberts said. "Just like my great uncle, I've always had a calling to help those around me: from adults faced with certain challenges to children who need someone to look out for them."
Kapaun, who volunteered for the Korean War after serving as a chaplain during World War II, is now being considered for sainthood by the Vatican.
Roberts volunteered for her current deployment and described how Kapaun' s legacy has shaped her life.
"He was a man who never gave up, and through it all, always maintained his integrity, faith, courage and his sense of humor. Helping others is not just a calling for me, but is a way to continue his legacy."