Chaplain's Hill Project

Telling the stories of almost 250 U.S. Military Chaplains who lost their lives in the service to the nation

Capodanno, Vincent Robert

Basic Biographical Details

Branch: U.S. Navy Reserve
Conflict: Vietnam
Monument: Catholic
Born: 2/13/1929
Hometown: Staten Island
Home State: New York
Last place of Worship: Missionary work in China
Date of Death: 9/4/1967
Resting Place: St. Peter’s Cemetery – West Brighton,Staten Island, New York
Military Honors: Medal of Honor, Bronze Star Medal w/”V”, Purple Heart, Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Silver Star, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation, Navy Presidential Unit Citation  (Known as the “Grunt  Padre”)
POW (Y/N) No


Background:  Vincent Robert Capodanno, born at home on February 13, 1929 in Staten Island, New York, was the tenth child of Italian immigrants, Vincent Robert Capodanno, Sr. and Rachel Basile Capodanno.  He graduated from Curtis High School, Staten Island on February 4, 1947 and attended Fordham University for one year.  While on a spiritual retreat in 1949, he confided to a class friend and fellow student his vocational desires.  Vincent was familiar with the Maryknolls and their missionary work through the  Catholic Foreign Mission Society.   In 1949, he decided to follow his calling and applied to Maryknoll Missionary Seminary in Ossinging, New York.

Following nine years of intensive preparations in theology, academics and basic survival tactics, Vincent Capodanno completed his seminary training and was ordained a Roman Catholic priest on June 14, 1958 by Francis Cardinal Spellman, Archbishop of New York.  Father Capodanno’s first assignment as a missionary was to the island of Taiwan where he ministered to the aboriginal Taiwenese living in the mountain region.  There he served the community through his parish and educational duties.

In the fall of 1960, Father Capodanno took on the added responsibility of preparing young Chinese men for the national college entrance exam.  This was a significant challenge for him as the intense competition for college acceptance promoted depression and the temptation of suicide.  Several short assignments followed over the next six years culminating in a six month furlough and home visit.

On his return to Taiwan, Father Capodanno was reassigned to a Maryknoll school in Hong Kong.  This was  a decision he did not expect nor desire.  As a result, he sought permission to join the Navy Chaplain Corps intending to serve the increasing number of Marine troops in Vietnam.  This request was eventually granted and Father Capodanno received his commission as a lieutenant on December 28,1965.

Following his graduation from Officer Candidate School, he was sent to serve with the Fleet Marine Force in Vietnam.  Once there, he continued his Marine Corp training and in April 1966 he was assigned to the 1st  Battalion, 7th Marines, First Marine Division.

As chaplain for the battalion, his immediate focus was the young enlisted troops or “Grunts” – hence the eventual nickname, the “Grunt Padre”.  In December 1966, Father Capodanno was transferred to the 1st Medical Battalion, 1st Marine Division and remained with these men until his tour of duty was completed.

Father Capodanno loved his work with these men and often said that it “energized him”.  So much so that he requested and was granted an extension to remain with the Marines in Vietnam.  After a short family visit to  Staten Island, Father Capodanno arrived back in Vietnam.  In July 1967, he was assigned to the 1st  Battalion, 5th Marine Division.  Two months later, August 1967, he was  assigned to H&S Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, First Division.  On September 4, 1967, at 4:30 am, during Operation Swift in the Thang Bink  District of the Que Son Valley, elements of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines encountered a large  North Vietnamese Army unit of approximately 2500 men near the village of Dong Son.  The outnumbered and disorganized Company D of the 1st Battalion was in need of reinforcements.  By 9:14 am, 26 Marines were confirmed dead , and two rifle companies from the 3rd Battalion , 5th Marines were committed to the battle.  At 9:25 am, the commander of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines requested further reinforcements.

When he heard that two platoons of M Company from his battalion were taking casualties and about to be overrun by the enemy, Father Capodanno went among the wounded and dying Marines of Second Platoon, helping them and administering last rites.  He was wounded in the hand, arms and legs.  Refusing medical aid, he went to help a seriously wounded Navy corpsman and two wounded Marines only a few  yards from an enemy machine gun.  Although Father Capodanno was unarmed, the enemy opened fire.  The Father was killed, the victim of 27 bullet wounds.  His body was recovered and interred in his family’s plot in 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 official ceremony was held on January 7, 1969.

 

 


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