In an uncomfortable warzone thousands of miles from home, chaplains are often the only sense of peace and calm for service members. Navy Chaplain Vincent Capodanno was amongst the best, earning the title of the “grunt padre” from the Marines he served. His efforts to support them would take him to the chaos of battle, rainy nights in the jungle, and foxholes in distant outposts.
Vincent Robert Capodanno was born on February 13, 1929, in Staten Island, New York. He was the youngest of ten children, born to Italian immigrants.
Capodanno was devoted to his faith. He attended Mass at his home parish throughout high school and during his time taking evening classes at Fordham University. While on a spiritual retreat in 1949, he confided to a close friend about his desire to become a priest. He followed his vocational calling to foreign mission work and applied to the seminary of the Maryknoll Missions, completed his training, and was ordained in 1958.
That year he was sent to Taiwan. Several other short assignments ensued over the course of six years and after returning to Taiwan, his superiors transferred him to Hong Kong. It was there that he caught sight of a new call to service and he sought permission to join the Navy Chaplain Corps. He intended to serve the increasing number of Marine troops in Vietnam.
After finishing Officer Candidate School, he reported to the 7th Marines in Vietnam. As the chaplain for the battalion, his immediate focus was the enlisted troops. He became a companion to the Marines: living, eating, and sleeping in the same conditions of the men. He established libraries, gathered and distributed gifts and organized outreach programs for the local villagers. He spent hours reassuring the weary and disillusioned, consoling the grieving, hearing confessions, instructing converts, and distributing St. Christopher medals. Such work “energized” him, and he requested an extension to remain with the Marines. It was during his second tour that he made the ultimate sacrifice.
On September 4, 1967, while providing comfort and aid to the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, an already wounded Father Capodanno rushed forward to comfort a wounded corpsman. While administering last rites, he was shot more than 27 times. This act of heroism would earn him the Medal of Honor posthumously.
His service to his country was as great as to the Roman Catholic Church – and for that he is currently being beatified. That process, known as canonization, is when the church will prove that he lived and died in such an exemplary way that he deserves to be recognized as a saint.
Capodanno is one of 160 Medal of Honor recipients on The Wall. Of those, 159 were awarded for acts in the Vietnam War. Major General Keith Ware, who died during the Vietnam War, earned his Medal of Honor for actions during World War II.
Medal of Honor
Vincent Capodanno was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on September 4, 1967 in the Quang Tin Province of Vietnam. According to his citation, he disregarded his own safety to come to the aid of a besieged platoon. While under enemy fire, he was inflicted with multiple wounds, but refused medical attention. He continued administering last rites and giving aid to the wounded. In an attempt to aid a mortally wounded corpsman, he was killed.
Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Chaplain of the 3d Battalion, in connection with operations against enemy forces. In response to reports that the 2d Platoon of M Company was in danger of being overrun by a massed enemy assaulting force, Lt. Capodanno left the relative safety of the company command post and ran through an open area raked with fire, directly to the beleaguered platoon. Disregarding the intense enemy small-arms, automatic-weapons, and mortar fire, he moved about the battlefield administering last rites to the dying and giving medical aid to the wounded. When an exploding mortar round inflicted painful multiple wounds to his arms and legs, and severed a portion of his right hand, he steadfastly refused all medical aid. Instead, he directed the corpsmen to help their wounded comrades and, with calm vigor, continued to move about the battlefield as he provided encouragement by voice and example to the valiant marines. Upon encountering a wounded corpsman in the direct line of fire of an enemy machine gunner positioned approximately 15 yards away, Lt. Capodanno rushed a daring attempt to aid and assist the mortally wounded corpsman. At that instant, only inches from his goal, he was struck down by a burst of machine gun fire. By his heroic conduct on the battlefield, and his inspiring example, Lt. Capodanno upheld the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the cause of freedom.
Since 1775, more than 25,000 chaplains from a multitude of religions have provided spiritual guidance and counseling to the men and women serving in our armed forces. While chaplains were noncombatants, they often became targets as they put themselves in harm’s way to pull the wounded to safety or to administer comfort and last rites.
The Chaplain Corps of the United States Armed Forces has been active in more than 270 major combat engagements and more than 400 have died serving their country.
During the Vietnam War, chaplains were resolute in offering compassion and connection to all service members. They were responsible for holding memorial services for those killed, conducting religious services, raising troop morale, lending an ear, and offering spiritual counsel to service members under duress.
Peaking at 300 chaplains serving in Vietnam in 1967, this number alone is not representative of the amount of steadfast care and compassion these men were able to provide and the danger they often faced. There are 16 chaplains with their names inscribed upon the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and thousands more served their country and fellow man.
There are 16 clergy members listed on The Wall: seven Catholic, seven Protestant, and two Jewish.
While meeting with troops of the 101st Airborne Division on May 4, 1966, Army Chaplain Barragy was killed when the CH-47 he was riding in crashed due to mechanical failure. From Waterloo, Iowa, he was serving the Roman Catholic Church. Panel 7E/22.
With less than one month left in Vietnam, Army Chaplain Bartley was assisting in the filming of a television program on Vietnam chaplains when he was killed after the explosion of a hostile mine. From Rockbridge Baths, Virginia, he was serving the United Presbyterian Church at MACV headquarters. Panel 23W/109.
During the siege of Khe Sanh, Navy Chaplain Brett was killed during an artillery attack while caring for the wounded on February 22, 1968. Assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment, Chaplain Brett served the Roman Catholic Church and was known to have provided up to ten masses per day. Panel 40E/58.
On Easter Sunday 1971, Army Chaplain Brown was calling upon soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry, AMERICAL Division when his helicopter was shot down by enemy fire. From Columbus, Ohio, Chaplain Brown was serving the Lutheran Church. Panel 4W/118.
While administering comfort and last rites to Marines, Navy Chaplain Capodanno was wounded by small arms and mortar fire while serving with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines. Advancing to aid a wounded corpsman, he was killed by enemy fire in an act of heroism that would earn him the Medal of Honor. From Staten Island, N.Y., he is being beatified by the Roman Catholic Church. Panel 25E/95.
A veteran of World War II and Korea, Army Chaplain Engel died of a heart attack shortly after admitting himself to a hospital in
Saigon on December 16, 1964. Chaplain Engel was born in Israel and immigrated to the United States. Based at MACV Headquarters, he served service members of the Jewish faith. He left behind two sons. Panel 1E/77.
Army Chaplain Feaster was injured by artillery fire on September 18, 1966. Only after helping other wounded was it learned he had also been wounded. He died several weeks later of an infection. From Portsmouth, N.H., he served Congregational Christian Church while serving with the 196th LIB. Panel 11E/109.
On October 26, 1966 in the Gulf of Tonkin, a fire engulfed the USS Oriskany killing 44 crewman and injuring another 156. While attempting to provide last rites and comfort to those injured and dying, Chaplain Garrity was overwhelmed by the heat and smoke. He was from Havre, Mont. and was serving the Roman Catholic Church. Panel 11E/110.
While conducting a church service on May 25, 1967, Army Chaplain Grandea was wounded by a hostile mortar round. Evacuated to Clark AFB in his native Philippines he died several days later from infection. He was serving the Methodist Church with the 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry. Panel 21E/97.
While serving the 5th Special Forces Group, Army Chaplain Heinz was killed when his helicopter crashed into a hillside in poor weather on December 9, 1969. From Coventry, Conn., he was serving the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) and left behind a wife and two daughters. Panel 15W/42.
As a passenger aboard a Navy VC-47 airplane on March 10, 1967, Army Chaplain Johnson died with 14 other service members when the wing failed during a flight. He was serving the Baptist Church in the 4th Infantry Division. Panel 16E/53.
On February 17, 1968, Army Chaplain McGonigal joined the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines in the final assault on the Citadel in Hue. While administering comfort and last rites, he was killed by small arms fire. A former physics teacher from Washington, D.C. he was serving the Roman Catholic Church. Panel 39E/75.
Known for his clean green uniforms and guitar playing, Army Chaplain Nichols was killed by an enemy booby trap while travelling
between units in the field on October 13, 1970. Serving the Assemblies of God Church, from Kalispell, Mont., he was attached to the 1st Battalion, 52nd Infantry, AMERICAL Division. Panel 7W/133.
Against the advice of leadership, Army Chaplain Quealy flew to a battle site near Saigon on November 8, 1966. While administering last rites and comforting the wounded, he was killed by enemy machine gun fire. From New York, N.Y., he was serving the Roman Catholic Church with the 1st Infantry Division. Panel 12E/43.
Army Chaplain Singer had been in Vietnam for one month when killed while flying aboard a C-123 plane which crashed after takeoff en route to perform Chanukah services on December 17, 1968. From Flushing, N.Y., he served service members of the
Jewish faith and was attached to the XXIV Corps. Panel 36W/37.
While assisting medics and providing spiritual assistance on November 19, 1967, Army Chaplain Watters was killed by fragmentation wounds. For his actions, he posthumously received the Medal of Honor. From Berkeley Heights, N.J., he was serving the Roman Catholic Church with the 173rd Airborne Brigade. Panel 30E/36.
Remembering Vincent Capodanno
James Capodanno, a World War II veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, dedicated nearly five decades of his life to preserving the memory of his younger brother, Vincent. In this poignant and emotional interview, James reflects on the life and legacy of his brother.
James was the last surviving brother of Vincent Capodanno. He passed away on May 23, 2014.
The Story of Fr. Vincent Capodanno: The Word Among Us magazine
Father Vincent R. Capodanno, MM: Maryknoll Mission Archives
Father Capodanno Guild: A private Catholic Church association and not-for-profit corporation established to promote the Cause for Canonization of Father Vincent R. Capodanno
Called and Chosen: Fr. Vincent Capodanno : EWTN Original Docudrama
USS Capodanno: The 42nd of 46 Knox-class escort vessels, Capodanno was the first U.S. Naval ship to be commissioned at Mayport, Fl., and the fourth to be named for a chaplain. During its 20 years of operational service, it was further distinguished as the first ship in the US Fleet to receive a Papal Blessing while docked in Naples. On July 30, 1993, the ship was decommissioned.
- Capodanno Chapel, Que Son Valley, Vietnam
- Capodanno Memorial Chapel, Naval Station Newport, Rhode Island
- Capodanno Drive, Naval Station Newport, Rhode Island
- Capodanno Chapel, Naval Hospital, Oakland, California
- Capodanno Chapel, Camp Pendleton, California
- Vincent Robert Capodanno Naval Clinic, Gaeta, Italy
- Piazza Vincent Capodanno, Gaeta, Italy
- Capodanno Building, Navy Personnel Command, Millington, Tennessee
- Capodanno Chapel, Marine Corps Air Station, Iwakuni, Japan
- Catholic Chaplains Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia
Additional locations have been:
- Capodanno Chapel, The Basic School, Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia
- Capodanno Memorial Chapel, Al-Taqaddum (TQ) Air Base, Iraq
- Vincent R. Capodanno Memorial, National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, Champion, Wisconsin
- Father Vincent Capodanno High School, Southern Pines, North Carolina