Biographies

Father Vincent R. Capodanno, MM

Born: February 13, 1929
Ordained: June 14, 1958
Died: September 4, 1967

Vincent R. Capodanno was born on February 13, 1929 in Staten Island, N.Y. He attended grammar and high school there, graduating in 1947. He also attended one year of evening school at Fordham University, working by day as a clerk in a New York insurance firm.

He entered Maryknoll in 1949 and was ordained to the priesthood on June 14, 1958. His first assignment was to Miaoli in Formosa.

In August of 1965 he was granted permission to join the U.S. Navy as a chaplain. He volunteered for immediate duty in Vietnam, serving as chaplain in the Marine Corps who use Navy men since they have no chaplains of their own.

Father Capodanno was killed in action in Vietnam when he was with a group of Marines who had been ambushed. Though wounded himself, he administered to those who were hurt until he was killed. (An account of his death by an eye witness is found at the bottom of this page). He was due to return to the states in October.

A concelebrated Funeral Mass took place in Queen of Peace Church, N. Arlington, N.J. on September 19th. Interment was in St. Peter’s Cemetery, Staten Island, in the family plot.

Letter sent to Sr. George Marie, SSND, Mt. Calvary, Wisc. by a doctor in the Marine Corps [Dr. Joseph E. Pilon] Jan. 8, 1969:

“Dear Sister: We had a chaplain, a Maryknoll priest named Capodanno, who had been over here for 16 months. Usual tour of duty in Vietnam is 12 months but the good padre had it extended on condition that he would be allowed to continue with the ‘grunts’ (term applied to marine infantry men)….He appeared, in spite of his quiet unpretentious manner, to be a veritable thorn in the Division Chaplain’s bald head. The D.C. wanted Fr. C. to live at Headquarters from where he could ‘spoke’ out to all the battalions in the division – but Fr. C. would have none of that. His mission was to the grunts, fighting in the front lines whom he felt really needed a chaplain. His audience was always a small group of 20-40 marines gathered together on a hill or behind some rocks, hearing confessions, saying Mass. It was almost as though he had decided to leave the ‘other 99’ in a safe area and go after the one who had gotten in trouble. Over here there is a written policy that if you get three Purple Hearts you go home within 48 hours. On Labor Day our battalion ran into a world of trouble. When Fr. C. arrived on the scene it was 500 marines against 2500 N. Vietnamese. We were constantly on the verge of being overrun and the marines on several occasions had to ‘advance in a retrograde movement’. This left the dead and wounded outside the perimeter as they slowly withdrew. Early in the day he was shot in the right hand – one corpsman patched him up and tried to evacuate him to the rear but Fr. C. declined, saying he had work to do. A few hours later a mortar shell landed near him and left his right arm hanging in shreds. Once again he was patched up and again he refused evacuation. There he was, moving slowly from wounded to dead to wounded, using his left arm to support his right as he gave absolution, when he suddenly spied a corpsman get knocked down by a burst from an automatic weapon. The man was shot in the leg and couldn’t move. Fr. C. ran out to him and positioned himself between the injured boy and the weapon. The weapon opened up again and this time riddled Fr. C. completely, and – with his third Purple Heart of the day – Father went Home. And that, Sisters, is my Christmas message to you – the one conveyed to me by Father Capodanno, the message of love.”