Thursday, September 27, 2007

Father Vincent R. Capodanno awarded the Medal of Honor
The US Navy provides medical and chaplain service for the United States Marine Corps. This service can be found at all Marine Corps Base's and while in the field, including combat. The Navy Corpsmen attached to Marines during World War II were not allowed to have a weapon. They wore a red cross on their helmet which became a target for the Japanese solders. This is a touching story of a Navy chaplain during the Vietnam War.

Father Vincent R. Capodanno, a Maryknoll missionary and U.S. Navy chaplain, was killed by a sniper on Sept. 4, 1967, as he ministered to a Marine on the battlefield in Qui Son Valley, Vietnam. The "grunt padre" was hit 27 times in the back, neck and head.

Though 40 years have passed, Father Capodanno's legacy lives on through the countless lives he touched during his 38 years.

According to Marine Cliff McKenzie's eyewitness account, Father Capodanno arrived on the scene that Labor Day as 500 Marines battled 2,500 North Vietnamese troops.

Father Capodanno was shot in the right hand and was patched up by a corpsman who tried to evacuate him to the rear, but the priest insisted on remaining. A few hours later, a mortar shell landed near him and his right arm was badly damaged. He was patched up again -- and again refused evacuation. At the time, Father Capodanno already had three Purple Hearts. There's a rule in the Marines: After three, you go home within 48 hours.

McKenzie adds that Father Capodanno began moving from wounded to dead to wounded, using his left arm to support his right as he gave absolution, when he suddenly spied a corpsman who had been knocked down by a burst from an automatic weapon. The man was hit in the leg and couldn't move. Father Capodanno positioned himself between the injured Marine and the sniper -- that's when he was raked by gunfire. And, said McKenzie, "with his third Purple Heart, Father Capodanno went home."

Sunday's mass will be concelebrated by Monsignor James Dorney, pastor of St. Peter's R.C. Church, New Brighton, who says mass each Sunday at 9 a.m. in the Rev. Vincent Capodanno Chapel at Fort Wadsworth; Maryknoll Chaplain Dan Dolan; the Rev. Philip Blaine, a Franciscan priest from the St. Francis Friary and Center for Spirituality on Todt Hill, and Archbishop Edwin O'Brien from the Military Archdiocese in Washington, D.C.

Also present will be Rear Admiral Alan T. Baker, chaplain of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps; Capt. William Cuddy, chaplain of the Coast Guard; Capt. Robert O'Brien, commander of the U.S. Coast Guard sector, New York; Rear Adm. William Cloner, Jewish Chaplain of the U.S. Coast Guard, Sector, New York, and Cmdr. Michael E. Hall, chaplain of the U.S. Coast Guard, Sector New York.
Preceding the Mass, the Marine Corps League Color Guard will make a presentation. The Father Vincent Capodanno Chapter, Military Order of the Purple Heart, will lay a wreath at the chapel monument, which depicts Father Capodanno giving Last Rites to a soldier.
The Marine Corps color guard and the Vietnam Veterans Color Guard, the Catholic War Veterans, the Father Capodanno Purple Hearts, the Jewish War Veterans and the Father Capodanno Sea Cadets will lay a wreath.

Joanne Nuzzo, director of special events at Borough Hall, and Lee Covino, who heads veterans' and military affairs at Borough Hall, also will attend.

Father Capodanno, who was awarded the Medal of Honor, the Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts for his sacrifice, recently was acknowledged as a Servant of God -- the first step on the road to sainthood.
Navy Chaplain Died for His Men
May 25, 2001 / Fairfax, Va: The whole world seems to be noticing him now, but Jim Hamfeldt remembers the last time he saw Father Vincent Capodanno. It was on the Vietnam battlefield where the priest died.

EWTN will honor Father Capodanno with a special show this Memorial Day; next month a Boston homeless shelter for veterans will be named after him. Gaeta, Italy, the hometown of the priest's grandfather, will soon dedicate a naval hospital and a statue in the town square to the priest-hero. There's even talk that the Vatican may begin the process for his canonization.

Hamfeldt says he knows why - firsthand. "I judge everyone I know by this guy," said Hamfeldt, who served with Father Capodanno in Vietnam. "He's the most influential person in my life and that´s saying a lot."

Marines affectionately called Father Capodanno the "grunt padre" for his ability to relate well with soldiers and his willingness to risk his life to minister to the men.

It was during heavy fighting outside the village of Chau Lam on Sept. 4, 1967, that Father Capodanno died. Arriving with ammunition, Father Vincent's chopper had to land in the middle of the battlefield.

First, part of the priest's hand was shot off. Then a mortar shredded his arm. "Most guys would stop with one wound," said Hamfeldt. "He kept going. He was willing to risk his life to save ours." He received the wound that killed him after he administered the sacrament of the sick to a wounded soldier. Hamfeldt said he wishes he could have taken that bullet for Father Vincent.

"But I would have had to stand in line for the chance," he said, "because so many guys would have done the same thing." That kind of affection is spreading today as more people learn about the heroism of the "grunt padre."

New Fame
All of the attention to Father Capodanno is no surprise to Father Daniel Mode, who wrote a biography about the priest last year. "Every month I get another story about some miracle that has occurred from knowing Father Capodanno," said Father Mode. "There's a lot of healing related to Father Capodanno."
Men usually prefer not to talk about their war experiences, he said. But Marines were excited to share their stories for his book,
The Grunt Padre.

"He radiated Christ," said Father Mode. "He was always with people at their time of need."

Father Mode said that Bob Stagnold, president of the American Legion, became interested in the "grunt padre" after listening to the author. Now, a new effort is underway to reach veterans with Father Capodanno´s story.

A screenwriter has even inked a deal with the Father Vincent Capodanno Foundation to develop a script for a major motion picture, said Father Mode.

Family Hero
All this attention to Father Vincent Capodanno makes his older brother Jim very proud.

"He served and helped the young grunts and now they are helping homeless veterans. It ties together well," Capodanno said about the dedication of the homeless shelter in Boston. "Thirty-four years later and he's still being honored and I pray that people will always remember him."

Marines, like Hamfeldt, continue to call Jim to tell him how much his younger brother affected their lives.

"They can't talk enough good about him," said Capodanno. "They felt at the heart of the battle that they would have rather been killed than Father Vincent."
And days like Memorial Day are when Capodanno reflects on the brave men, like his brother, who died in battle.

"I think of all the fellas that fought in all the battles for our country," said Capodanno. "Their bodies are all over the world. You have to pray for the dead. And of course, I think of my brother."
Beyond the Call of Duty
by John Horvat
Americans love heroes. Something about them grips the American soul.Perhaps the attraction lies precisely in going against the zeitgeist of this hedonistic age. Heroes are outside the box.They do not fare well in a culture where real living has been reduced to pre-packaged experiences and media-generated events. They get lost in consumer mazes where they are constantly told to enjoy life. Heroes do not sign multi-million dollar sports or advertising contracts.Heroes rise above mass-markets and mass media and quench the thirst of postmodern man by speaking of honor, courage and sacrifice. Above all, heroes, especially those in combat, rise above complacency, self-interest and comfort. They completely mobilize all their resources, with the highest degree of dedication for a determined ideal. And that is why they are held in awe.

A Catholic Hero
While American heroes somehow still sprout from the sterile soil of a hostile culture, it is not often that one finds a Catholic hero. That is why the recently-published book The Grunt Padre is a pleasant surprise. It is the thrilling narrative of American Catholic heroism without Hollywood embellishment or sentimentality.The story could not be more American. Vincent Capodanno grew up in the thirties and forties in a large Italian-American family on Staten Island. His was a typical education of an ordinary American of his time. He responded to the call of his vocation and joined the Maryknoll missionary order. Upon ordination in 1958, he served in Taiwan and later Hong Kong.His life might well have ended in the quiet dedication required of missionary life in faraway lands. However, in the mid-60's, the direction of his life abruptly changed when he volunteered to serve as a Naval/Marine Corps chaplain in Vietnam. While studying history at Mount Saint Mary's Seminary in the nineties, author Fr. Daniel Mode unexpectedly uncovered the deeds of the remarkable Fr. Vincent R. Capodanno.

The Grunt Padre
In his new assignment as a Navy/Marine Chaplin, Fr. Capodanno found a parish among the "needy." He sought the lonely Marines, the "grunts" who were exposed to death, suffering and sacrifice. He felt a compelling desire to be with these forgotten parishioners in their greatest hours of need.On April 30, 1966 Fr. Capodanno began a sixteen-month tour with the 7th and 5th Marine Regiments where he became "the best known and sought after chaplain in the Marine Corps.""What set Father Vincent apart was the way he lived his ministry with the Marines," writes Fr. Mode. "He was not a religious leader who did his job and then returned to the comfort of his own circle. He lived as a Grunt Marine. Wherever they went, he went. Whatever burdens they had to carry, he shared the load. No problem was too large or too small to take to Father Vincent - he was available to them day and night."The soldiers responded to his devotion and soon he became affectionately known to his Marines as "the Grunt Padre."

Beyond Duty
Thus began an active life of dedication and service that went beyond the call of duty. He became a true father to young boys on the front lines.He was "out there" with his men where he lived, ate, and slept as they did. To the young recruits thrust into the terrifying reality of battle, he was always available in his tent where anyone could drop in for comfort and guidance.He shared his salary, rations and cigarettes with anyone in need. He could always be counted upon for a cold soda or a book from his reading library. When Christmas came around and soldiers felt forgotten, Fr. Vincent saw to it that no Marine was without gifts which he obtained through a relentless campaign from friends and organizations all over the world.More importantly, he heard confessions for hours on end, instructed converts, and administered the sacraments. His granting of General Absolution before battle unburdened the consciences of the Marines and instilled in them to fight with courage. His mere presence in a unit was enough to lift the morale of all on patrol.When men died, he was at their side so they would not die alone. He gave them Last Rites encouraging them to repent and persevere. In addition, he wrote countless letters of personal condolence to parents of wounded and dead Marines and offered solid grounding and hope to fellow Marines who lost friends.When the pseudo-peace movement began to oppose the war, Fr. Vincent raised the spirits of demoralized soldiers in the field. He encouraged his men to oppose that same brutal communist system, which still oppresses Vietnam today.

Battle Missions
However, it was in battle where Fr. Capodanno excelled and inspired. He would find out from friends in military intelligence which unit was most likely to encounter the heaviest contact and volunteer for those assignments.Marines would find him walking dangerous perimeters and keeping company with them in distant jungle outposts. The Grunt Padre could be seen leaping out of a helicopter in the midst of battle. He would care for the wounded, bless troops, and give communion to Catholics, before taking off for another battle zone.Fr. Mode's book is full of stories from veterans who recount his exploits. He collected and still receives inspiring eyewitness reports that testify to his zeal for souls.When his tour of duty came to an end, he obtained an extension. Despite the prosaic conditions of battle and an ecumenical chaplain corps, nothing could deviate him from his burning desire to give everything in the service of God, the Church and his men.

Faithful to the End
On September 4, 1967, the helicopter carrying him to the site of battle crashed during a large-scale offensive named Operation Swift. The 5th Marines found themselves in dire straights, outnumbered 5-to-1 by 2500 North Vietnamese regular troops.Although wounded three times in the course of the battle, Fr. Capodanno refused to be medi-vacked. Like a ray of hope in the midst of the storm, he went up and down the line caring for the wounded and anointing the dying.During the fierce fighting, the chaplain spotted a wounded corpsman hit by a burst of automatic fire and unable to move. Fr. Capodanno ran to his aid and began to care for his wounds. A Viet Cong machine gunner opened fire. With 27 bullet wounds in his spine, neck, and head, the Grunt Padre fell in battle, serving his men to the end.All over Vietnam, the Marines mourned their Padre.

Beyond Death
The memory of Fr. Capodanno's sacrifice went beyond his death. His actions on the field of battle that day won him the nation's highest honor-The Congressional Medal of Honor.Despite the pacifist objections of 73 Maryknoll priests, brothers and seminarians, the Navy commissioned a destroyer escort in 1973: the U.S.S. Capodanno. Numerous other memorials and statues have gone up in his memory.The recently published book, The Grunt Padre has served to inspire many Catholics who hunger for stories of Catholic heroism. His memory pierces through the cynical protests of the sixties and seventies that together with defeatist politicians consigned Vietnam to its present fate.Above all, the story of Fr. Capodanno is a striking reminder that the time of the Catholic hero is not over. When imbued with total dedication, each and every Catholic can have an enormous value in the life of the Church. Modest though they may be, men like Fr. Capodanno can obtain the fire, integrity, dedication and conviction whereby they want their ideal, want it entirely, seek nothing else but their ideal and do everything to obtain it. Men like these move history. They strike that deep chord that awakens admiration and awe.Those are the souls that have always characterized the Church. They reserve nothing for themselves, and give everything to God