Father Vincent Capodanno joined the Navy later in life as a chaplain to support the Marines in Vietnam, and proceeded to earn three Purple Hearts and a Medal of Honor 49 years ago.
Capodanno exceeded the call of duty as chaplain of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines in Vietnam Sept. 4, 1967. He heard reports coming in that the North Vietnamese were threatening to completely overwhelm a nearby platoon of U.S. troops. He immediately left his command post and dashed through open areas sustaining fire from automatic weapons and mortars, in order to deliver last rites and medical aid to wounded troops.
While he was treating the wounded, a mortar round exploded near him and tore off part of his right hand and severely injured his arms and legs. That didn’t stop Capodanno. He not only refused all medical aid, but also kept providing encouragement to Marines \fighting valiantly on the battlefield in Vietnam’s Que Son Valley.
Marine Cpl. Keith Rounseville remembered the day clearly.
Capodanno “was jumping over my [fox] hole, all the while exposing himself to enemy machine-gun fire to try and give aid to a wounded Marine,” Rounseville said. “Chaplain Capodanno looked and acted cool and calm, as if there wasn’t an enemy in sight. As he reached the wounded Marine, Chaplain Capodanno lay down beside him and gave him aid and verbal encouragement and telling him medical help was on the way.”
Another Marine, Cpl. Ray Harton, described the incredible peace that Capodanno’s presence carried there on the bloody hillside.
“As I closed my eyes, someone touched me,” Harton said, recollecting how he was wounded and bleeding from a gunshot. “When I opened my eyes, he looked directly at me. It was Father Capodanno. Everything got still: no noise, no firing, no screaming. A peace came over me that is unexplainable to this day. In a quiet, calm voice, he cupped the back of my head and said, ‘Stay quiet Marine. You will be okay. Someone will be here to help you soon. God is with us all this day.'”
His last and final act was to try and save a corpsman under machine gun fire from the North Vietnamese. Capodanno dashed 15 yards to help the man, but just before he was able to reach him, Capodanno was gunned down. In total, he was shot 27 times.
Then-Secretary of the Navy Paul Ignatius announced Dec. 27, 1968, that Capodanno would posthumously receive the Medal of Honor. The official ceremony took place Jan. 7, 1969.
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