The American Catholic Almanac, co-written by Brian Burch and Emily Stimpson, is a daily reader of American Catholics who changed the United States. It journeys from the American founding through the present day, visiting all kinds of people and places in between. Saints and sinners appear alongside heroes, children, politicians, athletes, and artists who all have one thing in common: their Catholic faith. To be released on September 30. Pre-order now to get your copy!
Every Thursday in September leading up to The American Catholic Almanac’s release, we will post a sneak preview of that day’s entry! Today, we remember Father Vincent Capodanno, a Marine chaplain during the Vietnam War who displayed tremendous courage in battle to serve his country and the Church.
The attack came before dawn on September 4, 1967, while most of the 1st Battalion 5th Marines’ Delta Company still slept. The evening before, the Americans had set up a nighttime defensive perimeter, but with 2,500 North Vietnamese soldiers aligned against them, it didn’t help. D Company was outnumbered and outgunned.
The battle raged for hours. The gunfire was relentless. So too, however, was the D Company’s chaplain, Father Vincent Capodanno.
Under heavy artillery fire, the Staten Island native administered Last Rites to the dying and pulled the wounded to safety. The injured men were heavy, but Father Capodanno had grown accustomed to carrying heavy loads.
For the past 17 months, ever since he had arrived in Vietnam, the former Maryknoll missionary had carried his own gear— over 40 pounds’ worth— through the Vietnamese jungles, where temperatures regularly climbed to 125 degrees. Capodanno could have handed off his burden to another Marine, but he didn’t think his priesthood should exempt him from the trials his men faced. That’s why the Marines called him “The Grunt Padre.” And that’s why, when battle began on September 4, he didn’t retreat to safety.
As the morning progressed, Capodanno’s decision to remain in the thick of the fighting earned him shrapnel wounds in the right arm, hand, and leg. But he refused medical attention and went on administering Last Rites with his one good hand. Nothing seemed to stop him.
Then, something did.
Hours into the battle, Capodanno spotted a wounded Marine pinned down yards away from a machine gun. Venturing forward was a risk. Capodanno took it. He made it safely to the Marine’s side, but as soon as he did, the enemy soldier manning the gun opened fire. The 38- year- old priest died instantly.
Capodanno was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the Purple Heart, and the Bronze Star, and in 1971, the U.S. Navy named a ship in his honor, the USS Capodanno. It later became the first American ship to receive a papal blessing.
Father Capodanno’s cause for canonization opened in 2002.