Servant of God Fr. Vincent Capodanno, a U.S. Navy chaplain whose heroic ministry to U.S. Marines in Vietnam won him the nickname “the Grunt Padre” and a posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor, will be remembered with a Mass at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on the evening of September 3.
The organization CatholicMil.org, which is dedicated to supporting Catholics in the U.S. armed forces, told CNA that Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for Military Services will celebrate the Mass in the Crypt Church of the Shrine at 7:00 p.m. Veterans who served with the chaplain and members of the Capodanno family are also among the confirmed attendees.
Fr. Capodanno was born on Staten Island in New York City to Italian immigrant parents. In 1957 he was ordained a Catholic priest by Cardinal Francis Spellman, then vicar of the U.S. Military Ordinariate.
He entered the Maryknoll religious order and served as a missionary in Taiwan and Hong Kong from 1958 to 1965. Having successfully petitioned his Maryknoll superiors to release him to serve as a U.S. Navy chaplain, he arrived in Vietnam during Holy Week of 1966.
Holding the rank of Lieutenant, Fr. Capodanno participated in seven combat operations. He became known for putting the well-being of Marines above his personal safety, moving among those wounded and dying on the battlefield in order to provide medical aid, comfort, and Last Rites.
During Operation Swift on September 4, 1967 Fr. Capodanno was injured by an exploding mortar round which caused multiple injuries on his arms and legs and severed part of his right hand.
The chaplain’s Medal of Honor citation says that despite his injuries he “steadfastly refused all medical aid.” The priest directed Marines to help the wounded and continued to move about the battlefield, encouraging Marines with his words and example.
“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,” the citation continues. “At that instant, only inches from his goal, he was struck down by a burst of machine gun fire.”
According to CatholicMil.org’s account, the priest died while using his body to shield a wounded corpsman from enemy fire.
Memorials to Fr. Capodanno quickly sprang up after his death. His name has been given to Staten Island’s main thoroughfare, many chapels, sons of Marines, Knights of Columbus Councils and Assemblies, and an order of the Purple Heart chapter.
In addition to the Medal of Honor, the priest was awarded three Purple Hearts. His name is also on Panel 25, line 95 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Fr. Capodanno was declared a Servant of God in 2006, marking his first step toward canonization.
The official website for Fr. Capodanno’s beatification cause is at http://www.VincentCapodanno.org