Obama awards Medal of Honor to Korean War chaplain

President Barack Obama posthumously awarded the nation's highest military decoration to a US Army chaplain killed in captivity in the Korean War, as tensions rise anew between the two Koreas.

During a White House ceremony to bestow the honor upon Emil Kapaun, Obama did not directly allude to the current crisis pitting North Korea against its southern neighbor and other allies of the United States in the region.

Kapaun, who was captured by Chinese Communist forces north of Pyongyang at Unsan, is also a candidate for sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church.

The Kansas priest died six months later at the age of 35 in a prison camp after many acts of bravery to protect and comfort his comrades, according to testimony from survivors.

The Korean War of 1950-1953 ended with the two Koreas separated by the Korean Demilitarized Zone.

Because the war was concluded with an armistice rather than a peace treaty, the two Koreas have always remained technically at war.

"Father Kapaun has been called a shepherd in combat boots. His fellow soldiers who felt his grace and his mercy called him a saint, a blessing from God," Obama recalled.

"After more than six decades of working to make this medal a reality, I know one of Father Kapaun's comrades spoke for a lot of folks here when he said, 'it's about time.'"

Several veterans were on hand during the ceremony in honor of Kapaun, who was buried in a mass grave in what is now North Korea.

His nephew Ray Kapaun received the medal in his name.

The medal is awarded, very often posthumously, for "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty."