Vincent Robert Capodanno, born on February 13, 1929, in Staten Island, New York, was the tenth child of Italian immigrants, Vincent Robert Capodanno, Sr. and Rachel Basile Capodanno. Through the example of his parents, Vincent Jr. experienced the dignity of hard work, pride of family, strength of ethnic solidarity and most especially, love of their Catholic faith.
On Memorial Day, May 31, 2021, County Commissioner and Navy Reservist Jeff Holcombintroduced those in attendance at the SSG Michael Wayne Schafer Memorial VFW Post 10209 to the life and legacy of Father Capodanno.
Though they do not carry weapons, many serving chaplains have died during combat. In WWII, chaplain deaths placed third behind infantry soldiers.
District 21 Past Auxiliary President Mary Bong also spoke of the history of Maryknoll Seminary and Father Capodanno’s storied career with the Navy.
Vincent was familiar with the missionary work of the Catholic Foreign Mission Society, the Maryknolls, through their magazine, The Field Afar. He applied to the Maryknoll Seminary and received acceptance in 1949.
Ordained in 1958, Father Capodanno headed for Taiwan in his early days. Later, during the Vietnam war, he sought permission to join the Navy Chaplain Corps intending to serve the increasing number of Marine troops in Vietnam. Eventually Maryknoll granted this request, and after finishing Officer Candidate School in 1966, Father Capodanno reported to the 7th Marines in Vietnam.
As the chaplain for the battalion, his immediate focus was the young enlisted troops or “Grunts.” He became known as the “Grunt Chaplain.”
His final days were described in his biography by the Archdiocese for the Military Services: “It was during his second tour on September 4, 1967, with the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines that Father Vincent Capodanno made the ultimate sacrifice. After hours of heavy fighting from a North Vietnamese ambush, Father Capodanno, himself seriously injured, sighted and ran to the assistance of a wounded corpsman and the Marine he was assisting who were pinned down by an enemy machine gunner where he administered medical and spiritual attention. Despite being unarmed, the enemy opened fire and Father Capodanno, the victim of 27 bullet wounds, died faithfully performing his final act as a good and faithful servant of God.”
“Posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 1969, Lieutenant Capodanno was also the recipient of the Navy Bronze Star medal, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star and the Purple Heart Medal. Soon after his death, the first chapel bearing his name was dedicated on Hill 51 in Que Son Valley, Vietnam; Chaplain Capodanno had helped build this simple place of prayer and peace that was constructed of thatched palms and bamboo. In February 1968, within five months of his death, the chapel at the Navy Chaplains School at Newport, RI, was dedicated the Capodanno Memorial Chapel. Other military chapels and commemorations are located in Oakland, CA, Camp Pendleton, CA, Fort Wadsworth, NY, Iwakuni, Japan, and Thiankou, Taiwan, the last of which honors the missionary who began his work in that country.”