Navy Chaplains have a long and distinguished history of administering to the spiritual needs of Marines. One such man was Father Vincent R. Capodanno. After his ordination in June 1957, Father Capodanno served from 1958-1965 as a Maryknoll Missionary for the Catholic Foreign Mission Society in the Far East. As the conflict in Vietnam escalated in early 1965, Father Capodanno felt the call to enter Naval Service. He subsequently accepted an appointment on 28 December 1965 as a Lieutenant, Chaplain Corps, U.S. Naval Reserve, and received indoctrination at the Naval Chaplains School in Newport Rhode Island.
In April 1966, Lieutenant Capodanno deployed to the Republic of Vietnam, and was assigned as a Chaplain with the First Marine Division. Battle hardened Marines soon came to seek out and appreciate the consolation and understanding they found in the tall, soft-spoken “Grunt Padre.” Lieutenant Capodanno always seemed to be on the go, and most of the time he was to be found with Marines in the field. While serving as Chaplain for the 3d Battalion, 5th Marines on 4 September 1967 in Quang Tri Province, he heard reports that 2d Platoon, Company M, was in danger of being overrun by a strong enemy force. Lieutenant Capodanno immediately requested to leave his secure station and attend to the Marines. In the words of the citation that would accompany his posthumously awarded Medal of Honor, Father Capodanno “ran to the beleaguered platoon through an open area raked with fire…and despite painful, multiple wounds to his arms and legs, refused all medical aid, and continued to move about the battlefield and provide encouragement by voice and example to the Marines.” Seeing a wounded Corpsman directly in the line of fire of an enemy machine gun, he rushed forward to the man’s aid, but was struck down by a burst of machine-gun fire. By his heroic conduct and inspiring example, Chaplain Capodanno upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service, and gallantly gave his life in the cause of freedom.
Today, Lieutenant Capodanno is recognized as having been one of the Navy’s most dedicated Chaplains. There are monuments in his honor, and both a Chapel at Camp Pendleton California and a U.S. Navy fast-frigate bears his name. The devoted service of Lieutenant Capodanno during the Vietnam War to “his” Marines, his “chosen flock,” remains a shining example of one man’s willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice for his country.