Modern Day Saint

Father Vincent R. Capodanno, MM

1929-1967

The following has been extracted from an article about Father Capodanno on the CatholicCitzens.org website. Father Vincent Capodanno was a man whose life as a Navy Officer and Chaplain epitomized the ideals of duty, honor, and country that are the military service. He was also a soldier priest in another army – that of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Father Capodanno is a candidate for canonization. Jim Fritz

Father Vincent Capodanno was born on February 13, 1929 in Staten Island, New York. He was ordained a priest on June 14, 1958 at Maryknoll, NY. Following his ordination he was assigned to Maryknoll missions in Taiwan. In 1965 he was granted permission by his Superiors to enlist in the U.S. Navy as a chaplain. In 1966 he was assigned to Vietnam with the U.S.M.C. Third Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment. On September 4, 1967 he was killed in action, in Que Son Valley, Quang Tin Province, South Vietnam, 30 miles south of Dan Nang. He was giving last rites to wounded and dying Americans in the heat of battle.

The following is an eye witness account of his final moments:

"We had a chaplain, a Maryknoll priest named Capodanno, who had been over here for 16 months. Usual tour of duty in Vietnam is 12 months but the good padre had it extended on condition that he would be allowed to continue with the "grunts" (term applied to marine infantry men) ... He appeared, in spite of his quiet unpretentious manner, to be a veritable thorn in the Division Chaplain's bald head. The Division Chaplain wanted Fr. C. to live at Headquarters from where he could "spoke" out to all the battalions in the division - but Fr. C. would have none of that. His mission was to the grunts fighting in the front lines whom he felt really needed a chaplain. His audience was always a small group of 20-40 marines gathered together on a hill or behind some rocks, hearing confessions, saying Mass. It was almost as though he had decided to leave the "other 99" in a safe area and go after the one who had gotten in trouble. Over here there is a written policy that if you get three Purple Hearts you go home within 48 hours. On Labor Day our battalion ran into a world of trouble. When Fr. C. arrived on the scene it was 500 marines against 2,500 N. Vietnamese. We were constantly on the verge of being overrun and the marines on several occasions had to "advance in a retrograde movement". This left the dead and wounded outside the perimeter as they slowly withdrew. Early in the day he was shot in the right hand - one corpsman patched him up and tried to evacuate him to the rear but Fr. C. declined, saying he had work to do. A few hours later a mortar shell landed near him and left his right arm hanging in shreds. Once again he was patched up and again he refused evacuation. There he was, moving slowly from wounded to dead to wounded, using his left arm to support his right as he gave absolution, when he suddenly spied a corpsman get knocked down by a burst from an automatic weapon. The man was shot in the leg and couldn't move. Fr. C. ran out to him and positioned himself between the injured boy and the weapon. The weapon opened up again and this time riddled Fr. C. completely, and - with his third Purple Heart of the day - Father went Home."

Father Capodanno's greatest desire was to remain with his troops and to experience their fears and give them moral support. As a 20-year-old corporal, quoted in the New York Times' September 9, 1967 edition, said, "Somehow he just seemed to act the way a man of God should act." Father Capodanno's death came during a week in which a total of 114 marines were killed and 283 were wounded in the parched hills and rice paddies near Tamky.

In January 1969, Lieutenant Vincent R. Capodanno, MM, became the second chaplain in United States history to receive our nation's highest military honor. "For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty ...", he was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. In addition, he was also awarded the National Defense Service Medal and the Vietnam Service Medal. The government of Vietnam awarded him the Vietnamese Gallantry Cross with Silver Star and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal. The Newport Naval Base Chapel has been dedicated in his honor.

To many he was a great fellow, brother, man, priest, and marine. His only weapon was his faith. A fellow chaplain stated, “His was a pilgrimage of a saint. Even to the end he faithfully held to the precepts of Our Lord the ‘greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’ For the life and Christian witness of Chaplain Vincent Robert Capodanno, thanks be to God.”

 

 

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