On the 50th anniversary of his death, Navy chaplain and Medal of Honor recipient Fr. Vincent Capodanno is being remembered for his love of the Marines he served with and the comfort he gave them as they fought in Vietnam.
Capodanno, nicknamed “The Grunt Padre,” was born in 1929 in New York. He was ordained a Catholic Maryknoll priest in 1958 and was a missionary in Taiwan and Hong Kong between 1958 to 1965.
He felt a calling to serve in the Navy and was commissioned as a lieutenant in 1965.
Capodanno was determined to serve Marines in Vietnam, said Mary Preece, Vice Postulator for Father Capodanno’s Cause for Canonization at the Archdiocese for the Military Service.
“At that time, the war was…intensifying quite a bit. He knew that he was going to be in harm’s way, but that’s what he wanted to do,” she said.
Capodanno arrived in Vietnam in 1966 and served first with 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, and 1st Medical Battalion, and then later with 1st Battalion, 5th Marines.
George Phillips, a Marine veteran who served with Capodanno in Vietnam, said he first heard of the chaplain and his deeds from others.
“We started hearing stories about this “Grunt Padre” … how this priest did everything that the Marines did: went outside the wire, went on patrols,” he said. “Wherever they went, he went.”
“By the time I’d met him I had been in country eight months and never seen a chaplain do any of that,” Phillips added.
On the day of his death, Capodanno had followed his Marines in Operation Swift, when his unit walked into an ambush. He came to the aid of many Marines and was eventually severely wounded in the arm and leg by a mortar, but continued on without seeking medical care.
When Capodanno saw a wounded Navy Corpsman pinned down, he ran towards him against the shouts of other Marines. As he ran, the North Vietnamese Army shot him dozens of times with a .50 cal machine gun. For his actions that day, he received the Medal of Honor in 1969.
The Archdiocese for the Military Service is having a Memorial Mass for the 50th anniversary of his death Sept. 5 at 6:30 pm EST at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. Watch live here.
The Archdiocese has sent files on Capodanno’s life work to the Vatican for his Cause for Canonization. He is currently recognized as “Servant of God” by the Catholic Church, the first step towards being recognized as a saint.
“You know, it’s different,” said Phillips, when asked what it feels like to have served alongside a potential saint.
“Potentially knowing a saint, that’s a wonderful thing. I’m more grateful for having known Fr. Capodanno the priest in the environment that we lived with in Vietnam,” he said. “And what he was able to do for all of us and myself on a daily basis.”