Vincent R. Capodanno
Vincent Robert Capodanno
|Nickname(s)||"The Grunt Padre"|
|Born||February 13, 1929|
Staten Island, New York
|Died||September 4, 1967 (aged 38)|
Thăng Bình District, Quang Tin Province, South Vietnam
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/||United States Navy Reserve|
|Years of service||1965–1967|
Vincent Robert Capodanno Jr. (February 13, 1929 – September 4, 1967) was a Roman Catholic priest and Maryknoll Missioner (M.M.) who was killed in action while serving as a United States Navy chaplain assigned to a Marine Corps infantry unit during the Vietnam War. He was a posthumous recipient of America's highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor, for heroic actions above and beyond the call of duty. The Catholic Church has declared him a Servant of God, the first of the four stages toward possible sainthood.
Early life and missionary work
Vincent R. Capodanno Jr. was born on Staten Island, New York, on February 13, 1929, the tenth and youngest child of an immigrant father from Gaeta, Italy, and an Italian-American mother. Capodanno graduated from Curtis High School on February 4, 1947, then took night classes at Fordham University for a year while working as an insurance clerk. In 1949, he entered the Maryknoll Missionary Seminary in Ossining, New York, which included extensive studies in Illinois and Massachusetts. He was ordained a Roman Catholic priest by Cardinal Francis Spellman on June 14, 1958.
Capodanno's first assignment as a missionary was in 1959 with the Hakka people in the mountains of Taiwan, where he served in a parish and later in a school. After six years, he returned to the United States for leave and then was assigned to a Maryknoll school in Hong Kong. Shortly after, he volunteered to serve as a military chaplain in Vietnam as the American presence escalated.
On December 28, 1965, Capodanno received his commission as a lieutenant in the Navy Chaplain Corps. He then requested to serve with the Fleet Marine Force (FMF) in Vietnam. After some training to serve within the Marine Corps, he was assigned in April 1966 to the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division in South Vietnam. In December, he was transferred to the 1st Medical Battalion, 1st Marine Division, until his year's tour was completed. In June 1967 after a one-month leave, he returned to Vietnam for a voluntary six-month extension, and in July was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines. In August, he was assigned to H&S Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division, where he befriended Lieutenant Frederick W. Smith, the future founder of Federal Express. Even before Capodanno's sacrificial death, he was widely known for his willingness to share the hardships of suffering Marines on the front lines – "Radiating Christ" to those around him, in the terminology of Father Raoul Plus, a World War One chaplain studied by Maryknollers – or simply the "Grunt Padre", in the words of Capodanno's Marine companions.
On Labor Day, September 4, 1967, at 4:30 am, during Operation Swift in the Thang Binh District of the Que Son Valley, a few dozen men of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines encountered a large North Vietnamese Army (NVA) unit of approximately 2,500 near the village of Dong Son. The outnumbered and disorganized Company D of the 1st Battalion was in need of reinforcements, and Company B soon joined. By 9:14 am, 26 Marines were confirmed dead. At 9:25 am, the commander of 1st Battalion requested further reinforcements, and Companies K and M from the 3rd Battalion were committed to the battle, still leaving the Marines greatly outnumbered by the NVA.
When Capodanno heard that two platoons of M Company from his battalion were taking casualties and about to be overrun by the enemy, the unarmed chaplain went among the wounded and dying Marines of 2nd Platoon, helping and comforting them and giving last rites. That afternoon, he was wounded in the hand, arms and legs. Refusing medical evacuation, in the early evening he went to help a seriously wounded Navy corpsman and two wounded Marines only yards (meters) from an enemy machine gun and was killed; 14 Marines and 2 corpsmen also were killed from his battalion. His body was recovered and buried in his family's plot in St. Peter's Cemetery (Staten Island).
On December 27, 1968, Secretary of the Navy Paul Ignatius notified the Capodanno family that Lieutenant Capodanno would posthumously be awarded the Medal of Honor in recognition of his selfless sacrifice. The ceremony was held January 7, 1969.
Cause for canonization
On May 19, 2002, Capodanno's Cause for Canonization was opened. In May 2004, the initial documentation was submitted to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, with CatholicMil (later renamed Mission Capodanno) acting as Petitioner and with Capodanno's biographer Daniel Mode named Postulator. On Memorial Day weekend, May 21, 2006, Capodanno's designation as a Servant of God was announced in Washington D.C., by Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA. On October 1, 2013, Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio presided over the formal renewal of the opening of the Cause for Beatification. Broglio announced at this time that the newly established Capodanno Guild would serve as the Petitioner of the Cause, and Andrea Ambrosi as Roman Postulator. Following a year-long investigation, Bishop Gerald Barbarito in 2019 officially credited Capodanno with the miraculous healing of a Florida woman with multiple sclerosis.
In 2017, for the 50th anniversary of Capodanno's death, EWTN collaborated with the Capodanno Guild to produce Called and Chosen, a documentary film publicizing his life and the ongoing canonization effort. The film won the Catholic Press Association's 2018 Gabriel Award for Best Religious TV, National Release. Focusing on his missionary vocation, another documentary premiered in 2019, The Field Afar: The Story of Father Vincent Capodanno.
Medal of Honor citation
Awarded January 7, 1969, Father Capodanno's Medal of Honor citation is as follows:
UNITED STATES NAVAL RESERVE
for service as set forth in the following
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Chaplain of the 3d Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division (Reinforced), FMF, in connection with operations against enemy forces in Quang Tin Province, Republic of Vietnam, on 4 September 1967. In response to reports that the 2d Platoon of M Company was in danger of being overrun by a massed enemy assaulting force, Lieutenant 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 fifteen yards away, Lieutenant Capodanno rushed forward in 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, Lieutenant Capodanno upheld the finest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the cause of freedom.
Honors and namings
USS Capodanno (FF-1093) was named in honor of Lieutenant Capodanno. The Capodanno was commissioned November 17, 1973, and became the first ship in the US fleet to receive a Papal Blessing when it was blessed by Pope John Paul II on September 4, 1981, the 14th anniversary of the chaplain's death. On July 30, 1993, the ship was decommissioned after 20 years of service and transferred to Turkey.
New York City honors
In March 1971, the Knights of Columbus, Madonna Council in Staten Island began a public campaign for a permanent memorial honoring Father Capodanno in his home borough. In October 1974, a bill was proposed to change the name of Seaside Boulevard to Father Capodanno Boulevard; a year later, the bill was passed by the Mayor of New York. For the United States Bicentennial weekend, the city of New York declared July 3, 1976, "Father Capodanno Day", and a memorial Mass was followed by a parade that included the United States Marine Corps Color Guard, marching bands, Boy and Girl Scouts, and many other groups.
Near the midpoint of Staten Island's Father Capodanno Boulevard, at the corner of Sand Lane, a monument in the chaplain's honor is made of light gray Barre granite, stands 8' high and 4' wide (2.4m x 1.2m) and has a bronze plaque. Near the north end of the boulevard, alongside Fort Wadsworth's Father Capodanno Memorial Chapel, stands a 1977 statue of the chaplain praying for a fallen corpsman during their final battle. The nearby South Beach neighborhood is the location of Father Vincent Capodanno Catholic Academy, formed by the merger of two parish elementary schools in 2020.
Saint Vincent Chapel, Taiwan
Saint Vincent Chapel, in Father Capodanno's Taiwanese mission territory, was his family's first choice as a memorial. Within four months after his death in 1967, almost $4,000 (equivalent to $30,000 in 2019) had been raised by organizations such as The American Legion, The Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Knights of Columbus, and the Marine Corps League. After various delays, the chapel was completed in 1993–1995. It was built in the small mountain town of Thiankou with the help of Father Daniel Dolan, another Maryknoller and Father Capodanno's former pastor in Taiwan.
Capodanno Hall, San Francisco
The San Francisco Bay Naval Shipyard (Hunters Point, 1941–1994) dedicated Capodanno Hall on November 3, 1969. The hall served as a Bachelor Officers' Quarters. Philip Capodanno unveiled the plaque that describes his brother's heroic deed:
Lieutenant Capodanno made the ultimate sacrifice ministering to the wounded and dying during savage fighting in Vietnam. He has become the third chaplain in our country's history to receive the Medal of Honor and the second Navy chaplain to be so honored.
Other physical memorials
Further memorials to Father Capodanno were noted in his published biography:
- 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
- List of American saints and beatified people
- List of Medal of Honor recipients for the Vietnam War
- List of Servants of God
- Roman Catholic Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA
- Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York
- United States Navy Memorial#Other Navy memorials
- "Father Capodanno Biography". Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA. Retrieved May 22, 2019.
- Waldman, Martin R. (2018). "Capodanno (DE-1093)". Naval History and Heritage Command. Retrieved May 1, 2019.
- Mode, Daniel L. (2000). The Grunt Padre: Father Vincent Robert Capodanno, Vietnam 1966–1967. CMJ Marian Publishers. pp. 36–37, 112. ISBN 978-1-891280-08-5. LCCN 99-069490.
- Plus, Raoul (1936). Radiating Christ: An Appeal to Militant Catholics. Burns, Oates & Washbourne. ASIN B007R069MO.
- Mode (2000). The Grunt Padre. pp. 124–126.
- Davis, Ken. "Vincent Robert Capodanno, LT, Navy, Honolulu HI, 04Sep67 25E095". The Virtual Wall. Retrieved May 22, 2019.
- Weinraub, Bernard (September 9, 1967). "Chaplain From S.I. Killed Praying on Battlefield; Catholic Abandoned Cover to Comfort Wounded Marines". New York Times. Retrieved May 22, 2019.
- Slepian, Stephanie (April 22, 2013). "Staten Island chaplain's valor set in stone". Staten Island Advance. Retrieved May 26, 2019.
- "Top Medal Awarded To Dead Chaplain". New York Times. Associated Press. January 8, 1969. Retrieved May 22, 2019.
- "Archbishop Broglio Announces Establishment of Capodanno Guild for the Cause for Canonization of Vietnam War Priest Hero" (Press release). Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA. September 5, 2013. Retrieved April 18, 2019.
- "Opening of the Cause for Beatification" (Press release). Capodanno Guild. October 1, 2013. Retrieved April 18, 2019.
- Padilla, Cecilia (July 9, 2019). "Local diocese concludes inquiry of Navy chaplain's alleged miracle". Florida Catholic. Retrieved November 13, 2020.
- "Film on Vietnam War Hero Father Vincent R. Capodanno Named Winner of 2018 Gabriel Award" (Press release). Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA. May 22, 2018. Retrieved April 18, 2019.
- Benanti, Carol Ann (August 7, 2019). "Rev. Vincent Capodanno documentary to debut Sunday". Staten Island Advance. Retrieved November 13, 2020.
- "Navy Medal of Honor: Vietnam War 1964–1975". Naval History and Heritage Command. Retrieved May 25, 2019.
- "Memorials". Mission Capodanno. Archived from the original on August 31, 2007.CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
- Huber, Robert E. (July 4, 1976). "Seaside Blvd. renamed for Island priest–war hero". Staten Island Advance.
- Mode (2000). The Grunt Padre. pp. 155–171, 195.
- "Father Vincent Capodanno Catholic Academy". Archdiocese of New York. Retrieved March 4, 2020.
- DiCicco, Mike (September 4, 2013). "New TBS chapel named for 'Grunt Padre'". Quantico Sentry. Retrieved May 26, 2019.
- Roberts, Melinda (2016). Photos of Rev Vincent Robert Capodanno Jr Memorial. National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help. Retrieved May 26, 2019.
- "About Us". Father Vincent Capodanno High School. Retrieved May 25, 2019.
- The Grunt Padre in Vietnam (DVD). Focus Worldwide Network. 2004. ASIN B002Y16MA0.
- Glass, Doyle D. (2014). Swift Sword: The Marines of Mike 3/5. Coleche Press. ISBN 978-0-692217-04-7.
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