Who was Fr. Robert Capodanno?
Our Sunday Visitor reports “Vincent Robert Capodanno was born Feb. 13, 1929, in Staten Island, N.Y., and was ordained a Maryknoll Missionary priest in June 1957.
He was a missionary in Taiwan and Hong Kong, and in December 1965 was commissioned lieutenant in the Navy Chaplain Corps. Fr. Capodanno is recognized as a Servant of God to the men whom he served as the Chaplain to the First Marine Division. He gained a reputation for always being there--for always taking care of his Marines.” The date was September 4, 1967 and Operation Swift was put into place as the Marines had found a large unit of a North Vietnamese Unit, approximately 2,500 men, near the village of Dong Son, in the Than Binh District of the Que-Son Valley. Seeing that the company was out-numbered the 1st Battalion 5th Marine Commander requested reinforcements of battalions “M & K” Company. As the Marines were deploying for battle Fr. Capodanno requested to go along. He stated “It’s not going to be easy”… but His Marines needed him.”
When “M” Company approached the village of Chau Lam, the fighting became fierce and Fr. Vince began taking care of wounded and dead Marines. OSV described Fr. Capodanno’s act of ministry in combat as “An exploding mortar round hit his face, arms and legs and severed a portion of his right hand. Yet he stayed to give last rites, to fallen Marines. When Corpsman Armando Leal was shot 15 yards from enemy machine guns. Father Capodanno jumped from cover and ran to his side. They were both killed in a burst of machine gun fire, with the priest riddled by 27 bullets in his spine, neck and head. He was 38. He went to Vietnam in April 1966 and died on Sept. 4, 1967. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, Bronze Star and Purple Heart. The USS Capodanno was named after him and blessed by Pope John Paul II in 1981.” In researching information about the USS Capodanno, it’s reported that the ship was decommissioned July 30, 1993 and leased to Turkey and recommissioned. On Jan. 11, 1995 the Navy removed the ship from its fleet list and sold the ship to Turkey on Feb. 22, 2002. It’s been ten years and Congressman Vito J. Fossello (US House of Representatives, 13th District- Staten Island and Brooklyn) has begun efforts to name a US Navy vessel the USS Capodanno. Congressman Fossello states “It is in light of this transfer that I seek to keep Father Capodanno’s spirit and memory alive by naming a new Navy destroyer in his honor.
In 2001, I sent a similar letter to the Secretary of the Navy with the signatures of over 100 Members of Congress. It is a difficult job to comfort those who are dying. It is truly brave to provide such comfort in the heat of battle and in the face of one's own death. Yet, it is clear that Father Capodanno undertook this challenge willingly and eagerly.
For these reasons it is important to honor his memory and devotion to this nation.” Fr. Capodanno became known as the Grunt Padre by the Marines whom he served with. He instilled in the men that “What we are doing was not something that they needed to feel guilty about… the morality of war is an issue that will always be debated… he taught me that if you got into a situation, deal with it.” Col. Francis Loving recalls Fr. Capodanno as “He brought a Godly touch to let people know that there are bad things in the world, and that we also had to recognize that there are good things… we are all responsible for our own actions and in how we respond to God. He said it was free will.”
To learn more about Fr. Vincent Capadanno’s life and support efforts to name a US Navy vessel the USS Capodanno visit the following website: http://www.vincentcapodanno.org/about_fr_capodanno/biography.