He was shot in the back as he administered Last Rites to the dying soldiers
Though only 38 when he died, he was beloved by the men he heroically served, and by the family and friends he left behind. (His brother James tearfully recalls his brother’s life here.)
Fr. Capodanno was one of 10 children and grew up in Staten Island, New York. After a year at Fordham, he entered the Maryknoll Missionary Seminary in Ossining, New York, and was ordained a priest on June 14, 1958.
First assigned to serve the aborginal people in the mountains of Taiwan, he was eventually sent to Hong Kong to work in a school. By the end of 1965 he was a lieutenant in the Navy Chaplain Corps and was assigned to the First Marine Division in Vietnam.
In the early hours of September 4, 1967, during Operation Swift, a group of Marines found themselves surrounded by approximately 2,500 North Vietnamese soldiers. A few hours later, 26 Marines were confirmed dead, the reinforcements who had shown up were under heavy gunfire, and further reinforcements were requested.
In the midst of the firestorm, Fr. Capodanno made his rounds — giving Last Rites, comforting the injured and dying, and even giving up his own gas mask, all while wounded in the face and hand himself.
As he went to help another wounded brother, just yards from an enemy machine gun, he was shot 27 times in the back and killed.
His body is interred in Saint Peters Cemetery in West New Brighton, Staten Island, New York.
Fr. Capodanno was posthumously awarded the highest military honors — the Medal of Honor, the Bronze Star and Purple Heart — but his greatest title may eventually be “Saint.”
Servant of God, Father Vincent, please pray for us.
Meet another military chaplain who is a Servant of God: Emil Kapaun.
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