Sunday, November 13, 2011

(31-C) Fr. Vincent Capodanno M.M.: A Medal of Honor Marine Chaplain of the Vietnam War & a Maryknoll Father


Military chaplains of all faiths have done a wonderful job throughout history.  One beautiful example of the faiths working together are the four military chaplains that gave their life jackets to soldiers who did not have one when the U.S. Dorchester was hit by a German torpedo on February 4, 1943.  They were Methodist, Jewish, Dutch Reformed, and Catholic.  For more detail on the four chaplains click on

There are ten American military chaplains, who have received the Congressional Medal of Honor (including a Confederate chaplain who received the equivalent Southern Cross of Honor), the military's highest award for heroism, since it was established in 1861.  Most were Catholic.  The qualifications for being awarded the Medal have been tightened up and refined over the years, but it is awarded to a member of the U.S. military for acts of intrepidity and gallantry above and beyond the call of duty while involved in combat operations. 

Four medals of honor were awarded to Union chaplains for heroism during the Civil War, all of whom were Protestant Christians.  A fifth chaplain may be added……. a Catholic priest serving the Confederate Army.  Fr. Emmeran Bliemel, O.S.B., was killed at the Battle of Jonesboro while administering last rites -- the first American chaplain to die on the field of battle.  Since the Civil War, five chaplains received the Congressional Medal of Honor.  All  were Catholic.

         Since then five more chaplains received this top award for heroismAll five of these Medals of Honor were awarded to Catholic priests.  They are as follows:
-Lt. Comdr. Joseph Timothy O'Callahan, U.S. Navy (World War II) - awarded in 1946.
-Capt. Angelo J. Liteky, U.S. Army (Vietnam War) - awarded in 1968.
-Maj. Charles Joseph Watters, U.S. Army (Vietnam War) - awarded posthumously in 1969.
-Lt. Vincent Robert Capodanno, U.S. Navy (Marines Vietnam War) - awarded posthumously in  1969.
-Capt. Emil J. Kapaun, U.S. Army (Korean War) - awarded posthumously in 2013.

         The causes for the canonizations of Fr. Kapaun and Fr. Capodanno are advancing. 

See - Cached,,

        Think of that the many heroic as these many other saintly priests when somebody says that Catholic priests are pedophiles.  The fact is that most of the abusers were homosexuals, who abused young adolescents and were ordained in the 60s, about the same time as the saintly Fr. Capodanno.  There's some justification for saying that in a way this extremely small percentage (even that's too many) of evil priests have done more harm to the Catholic Church than Hitler, Stalin, and Mao Ze Dong put together.  That's simply because the Church becomes stronger during persecution, although we pray to be spared of it.  They could not destroy the Church and these evil priests will not either.

        There is an excellent book available on the website: Fr. Daniel L Mode (2008). The Grunt Padre: The Service & Sacrifice of Father Vincent Robert Capodanno Viet Nam 1966-1967. Oak Lawn IL: CMJ Marian Publishers. The book has excellent photos of Fr. Vincent's life, the statue of him at Fr. Wadsworth-Staten Island, the battle ship USS Capodanno, the posthumous presentation of his Medal of Honor, his medals, and his name on the Vietnam War Memorial Wall in Washington.  Also available on that website are holy pictures and a DVD on him. A video of an interview of Fr. Mode by Mother Angelica is available from EWTN and its website

            A video documentary on Fr. Capodanno is fascinating.   “The Grunt Padre in Vietnam” available at 205-271-2990, 1-800-854-6316, or 1-504-840-9898 or  It is narrated by Archbishop Phillip M. Hannan, former prelate of Archdiocese of New Orleans and himself a former chaplain as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division during World War II.   In the video a Protestant Chaplain Takesian observed: “He lived his Christian faith.  He emulated Christ by giving his life for his men.  The men were willing to die for him”.   Marines testified that he’s a saint.

            I met a marine veteran recently who actually served with Fr. Capodanno in Vietnam and actually met him.  Jerry Bain of Pt. Pleasant, WV (304-675-1905 or affirmed that the men loved him and held him in such high esteem.   

Prayer for the Canonization of Fr. Capodanno

Heavenly Father, source of all that is holy, in every age You raise up men and women who live lives of heroic love and service. You have blessed Your Church through the life of Vincent Capodanno, Vietnam War Navy chaplain, who had the "courage of a lion, and the faith of a martyr." He was killed in action offering medical assistance to the wounded and administering last rites to the dying on the battlefield. Through his prayer, his courage, his faith, and his pastoral care he is an example of laying down one's life for one’s friends: Jesus told us that there is no greater love than this. If it be Your will, may he be proclaimed a saint! We ask this through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.  Click on for the official website for the cause of canonization of Father Vincent R. Capodanno.  

        This blog is a fitting climax as a third article for Veteran's Day 2011. I copied and pasted the following from the home page of The eye witness quotes at the end of this blog, one from a medical doctor and another from one of his aids are from the official website for the cause of Fr. Vincent's canonization, (just click on this link or copy and paste onto your web browser). The latter website has a brief but stirring video documentary on Fr. Capodanno's death. Then click on "skip" at the end of it for the other elements.  

Americans love heroes. Something about them grips the American soul. Perhaps the
attraction lies precisely in going against the zeitgeist of this hedonistic age. Heroes
are outside the box.  They do not fare well in a culture where real living has
been reduced to pre-packaged experiences and media-generated events. They
get lost in consumer mazes where they are constantly told to enjoy life. Heroes do
not sign multi-million dollar sports or advertising contracts.

Heroes rise above mass-markets and mass media and quench the thirst of
postmodern man by speaking of honor, courage and sacrifice.  Above all, heroes,
especially those in combat, rise above complacency, self-interest and comfort.
They completely mobilize all their resources, with the highest degree of dedication
for a determined ideal. And that is why they are held in awe.  Examples are Catholic
chaplains who preceded Fr. Capodanno:
Click on each of them and it will take you to brief  biographies of them at

Another Catholic Chaplain Hero in Viet Nam
While American heroes somehow still sprout from the sterile soil of a hostile culture,
it is not often that one finds a Catholic hero. That is why the recently published
book The Grunt Padre is a pleasant surprise. It is the thrilling narrative of American
Catholic heroism without Hollywood embellishment or sentimentality.

The story could not be more American. Vincent Capodanno grew up in the thirties and
forties in a large Italian-American family on Staten Island. His was a typical education
of an ordinary American of his time. He responded to the call of his vocation
and joined the Maryknoll missionary order. Upon ordination in 1958, he served in
Taiwan and later Hong Kong.

His life might well have ended in the quiet dedication required of missionary life in
faraway lands. However, in the mid-60's, the direction of his life abruptly changed when
he volunteered to serve as a Naval/Marine Corps chaplain in Vietnam. While studying
history at Mount Saint Mary's Seminary in the nineties, author Fr. Daniel Mode
unexpectedly uncovered the deeds of the remarkable Fr. Vincent R. Capodanno.

The Grunt Padre
In his new assignment as a Navy/Marine Chaplain, Father Capodanno found a parish
among the "needy." He sought the lonely Marines, the "grunts" who were exposed
to death, suffering and sacrifice. He felt a compelling desire to be with these forgotten
parishioners in their greatest hours of need.

On April 30, 1966 Father Capodanno began a sixteen-month tour with the 7th and
5th Marine Regiments where he became "the best known and sought after chaplain in
the Marine Corps.”

"What set Father Vincent apart was the way he lived his ministry with the Marines,"
writes Father Mode. "He was not a religious leader who did his job and then returned
to the comfort of his own circle. He lived as a grunt Marine. Wherever they went,
he went. Whatever burdens they had to carry, he shared the load. No problem
was too large or too small to take to Father Vincent - he was available to them day
and night."

The soldiers responded to his devotion and soon he became affectionately known
to his Marines as "the Grunt Padre."

Beyond the Call of Duty
Thus began an active life of dedication and service that went beyond the call of duty. He
became a true father to young boys on the front lines. He was "out there" with his men
where he lived, ate, and slept as they did. To the young recruits thrust into the terrifying
reality of battle, he was always available in his tent where anyone could drop in for
comfort and guidance.

He shared his salary, rations and cigarettes with anyone in need. He could always be
counted upon for a cold soda or a book from his reading library. When Christmas
came around and soldiers felt forgotten, Father Vincent saw to it that no Marine
was without gifts which he obtained through a relentless campaign from friends and
organizations all over the world.

More importantly, he heard confessions for hours on end, instructed converts, and
administered the sacraments. His granting of General Absolution before battle
unburdened the consciences of the Marines and instilled in them the courage to fight.
His mere presence in a unit was enough to lift the morale of all on patrol.
When men died, he was at their side so they would not die alone. He gave them the
Last Rites encouraging them to repent and persevere. In addition, he wrote
countless letters of personal condolence to parents of wounded and dead Marines
and offered solid grounding and hope to fellow Marines who lost friends.

When the pseudo-peace movement began to oppose the war, Fr. Vincent raised
the spirits of demoralized soldiers in the field. He encouraged his men to oppose
that same brutal communist system, which still oppresses Vietnam today.

Battle Missions
However, it was in battle where Father Capodanno excelled and inspired. He
would find out from friends in military intelligence which unit was most likely to
encounter the heaviest contact and volunteer for those assignments.

Marines would find him walking dangerous perimeters and keeping company
with them in distant jungle outposts. The Grunt Padre could be seen leaping out
of a helicopter in the midst of battle. He would care for the wounded, bless troops,
and give Communion to Catholics, before taking off for another battle zone.

When his tour of duty came to an end, he obtained an extension. Despite the prosaic
conditions of battle and an ecumenical chaplain corps, nothing could turn him
away from his burning desire to give everything in the service of God, the Church
and his men.

Faithful to the End
On September 4, 1967, the helicopter carrying him to the site of battle crashed
during a large-scale offensive named Operation Swift. The 5th Marines found
themselves in dire straights, outnumbered 5-to-1 by 2,500 North Vietnamese
regular troops.

Although wounded three times in the course of the battle, Fr. Capodanno refused
to be medi-vacked. Like a ray of hope in the midst of the storm, he went up and
down the line caring for the wounded and anointing the dying.  During the fierce
fighting, the chaplain spotted a wounded corpsman hit by a burst of automatic
fire and unable to move. Fr. Capodanno ran to his aid and began to care for his
wounds. A Viet Cong machine gunner opened fire. With 27 bullet wounds in his spine,
neck, and head, the Grunt Padre fell in battle, serving his men to the end.
All over Vietnam, the Marines mourned their Padre.

Beyond Death
The memory of Father Capodanno's sacrifice went beyond his death. His actions
on the field of battle that day won him the nation's highest honor, The Congressional
Medal of Honor.

Despite the pacifist objections of 73 Maryknoll priests, brothers and seminarians,
the Navy commissioned a destroyer escort in 1973: the U.S.S. Capodanno.
Numerous other memorials and statues have gone up in his memory.

The book, The Grunt Padre by Fr. Daniel L. Mode has served to inspire
many Catholics who hunger for stories of Catholic heroism. His memory pierces
through the cynical protests of the sixties and seventies that together with defeatist
politicians consigned Vietnam to its present fate.

Above all, the story of Father Capodanno is a striking reminder that the time
of the Catholic hero is not over. When imbued with total dedication, each
and every Catholic can have an enormous value in the life of the Church.
Modest though they may be, men like Father Capodanno can obtain the fire,
integrity, dedication and conviction whereby they want their ideal, want it
entirely, seek nothing else but their ideal and do everything to obtain it. Men
like these move history. They strike that deep chord that awakens admiration
and awe.  Those are the souls that have always characterized the Church.
They reserve nothing for themselves, and give everything to God.

On May 21, 2006 Fr. Capodanno was declared Servant of God and
his cause for canonization is currently under way.

Two heroic Catholic chaplains from World War II are:

Fr. Emil Kapaun: The Good Thief 
A Padre in Jump Boots

* There is another heroic Catholic chaplain from the Korean War 
   on the home page of

* Web site dedicated to Fr. Capodanno:

* The Grunt Padre by Fr. Daniel L. Mode
Eye Witness Accounts (Taken from )
Over here [Vietnam] 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 Father C. (Capodanno) arrived on the scene it was 500 Marines against 2500 North Vietnamese Army Regulars. Needless to say, we were constantly on the verge of being completely overrun and the Marines on several occasions had to advance in a retrograde movement. This left the dead and wounded outside the perimeter as the Marines slowly withdrew. Casualties were running high and Father C. had his work cut out for him. Early in the day, he was shot through the right hand which all but shattered his hand- one corpsman patched him up and tried to med evac him but Father C declined saying he had work to do. A few hours later, a mortar landed near him and left his right arm in shreds hanging from his side. Once again, he was patched up and once 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 or Last Rites, when he suddenly spied a corpsman get knocked down by the burst of an automatic weapon. The corpsman was shot in the leg and couldn't move and understandably panicked. Fr. C. ran out to him and positioned himself between the injured boy and the automatic weapon. Suddenly, the weapon opened up again and this time riddled Father C. from the back of his head to the base of his spine- and with his third Purple Heart of the day- Father C. went home.” --Lt. Joseph E. Pilon, MD Christmas 1967
I was Fr. Capodanno aide for a period of time in Vietnam with Henry Hernandez. I have a lot of memories of Fr. Capodanno...I have never met a man in my life time like Fr. Capodanno- it was like he had a aura around him. I knew during the tough times in Vietnam God was with him. I also had the same feeling when I was in action with Fr. Capodanno.” --Cpl Richard L. Kilgore, Coldwa, written in the 2003 Guestbook.
        An excellent website for Catholics in the military or retired and their families is and www.CatholicMil.comCheck it out by clicking on the aforementioned website or copy and paste onto your browser. 

Vincent Capodanno, LT, CHC, USNR was a Maryknoll Missioner and U.S. Navy Reserve chaplain who served during the Vietnam War. His "ministry of presence" was generously provided to combat Marines from all walks of life, all creeds, all faiths while he retained his own Catholic identity. On September 4, 1967 during Operation Swift, he shielded a fallen Marine from enemy fire. He died with his boots and his stole on, providing medical aid, inspiring courage, and administering Last Rites to the wounded and dying. For his actions, he was awarded a third Purple Heart and  posthumously was awarded the Medal of Honor. In 2004, the Church declared Father Capodanno a Servant of God. To Lt Capodanno, this site, work, and mission is dedicated. Visit:

       Another great website on Fr. Capodanno is

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