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A saying often heard in Vietnam: “There’s no atheists in a foxhole,” rings true for anyone that has experienced combat. In 1967, the Marines had a fully-ordained Catholic priest in their ranks as a Chaplain, his voice was recognized by all. On September 4th, Fr. Capodanno, weaponless, joined his unit on the ground during a ferocious battle to administer last rights and provide support for his wounded brothers. He didn’t survive and was joined by 127 Marines who died in that fight. Here’s his story:
By Jordan Hafizi | For the Staten Island Advance Sept. 4, 2020 & Wikipedia
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Rev. Vincent Capodanno served both his country and as a member of the clergy.
Born on Feb. 13, 1929, on Staten Island, he was ordained a priest on June 14, 1958.
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 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 South Vietnam. 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 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division, where he befriended Lieutenant Frederick W. Smith, the future founder of Federal Express. Father Capodanno participated in seven combat operations in the Vietnam War.
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. Father Capodanno, also known as “the grunt padre,” was shot 27 times in the back, neck and head on the battlefield in Que Son Valley. He lost his life at age 38 while administering last rites to a dying Marine. Although he was wearing a collar and was already injured — his hand was nearly severed and his face wounded — he continued on his mission to console and administer last rites.
His body was recovered and buried in his family’s plot in St. Peter’s Cemetery (Staten Island).
Even before Capodanno’s 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 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.
A monument at Fort Wadsworth honors Father Capodanno. (Staten Island Advance/Derek Alvez).Staff-Shot
On July 4, 1974, Seaside Boulevard on the East Shore was renamed for the Staten Island priest, whose family hailed from Mariners Harbor and Elm Park.
For his courage, fearlessness and heroism, an active effort in the Catholic Church is underway to have him proclaimed a saint. He’s already been declared a Servant of God, the first step on the path that leads to sainthood.
A woman had adopted a strong devotion to Father Capodanno. After hearing of the priest’s story, the woman prayed for his intercession in healing throughout her illness. In 2017, her latest MRI showed that the lesions in her brain were gone. She attributes this miraculous healing to the intercession of Father Capodanno.
The Staten Island funeral for Father Capodanno in 1967. (Staten Island Advance/Barry G. Schwartz)
In March 2020, the guild announced that Father Capodanno’s postulator in Rome had finished writing the formal position for the case for sainthood. The position was formally printed and submitted for distribution among the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
According to the most recent update by the guild, the coronavirus (COVID-19) significantly delayed the process of sainthood for Father Capodanno. The guild is hopeful that the process will begin once again.
Should Father Capodanno be deemed worthy to carry on with canonization by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, he will next be beatified and then declared a saint.
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