LT. VINCENT ROBERT CAPODANNO
on Feb. 13, 1929
From STATEN ISLAND, NEW YORK
Casualty was on Sept. 4, 1967
in QUANG TIN, SOUTH VIETNAM
Panel 25E - - Line 95
Strichker, Lt. Dunnigan, and Father Capadonno
(picture courtesy of JD Murray)
Lt. Vincent Capodanno served with the 1st Marine Division in
Vietnam. His dedication and tender care of "his Marines" earned
him the highest respect of those who served with him. Father Vince was
killed on Operation SWIFT, a fierce battle that cost the lives of many
5th Marines. Lt. Vincent Capodanno's name lives on proudly in the hearts
of the Marines and FMF Corpsmen who served with him, and his name stands
proudly on their Memorial Walls alongside the many Marines and Corpsman
he gave his life to save. For his selfless bravery, he was awarded the
Medal of Honor, posthumously.
and Semper Fidelis, Father Vince
Mike 3/5 Wall
3/5 Wall of Honor
VINCENT R. Lt, USN,
Chaplain Corps, 3d Btln, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division (Rein),
FMF. Action: Quang Tin Province, Republic of Vietnam, 4 Sep 1967.
Inducted: Staten Island, N.Y. DOB 13 Feb 1929, Staten Island,
of Honor Citation:
gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond
the call of duty as Chaplain of the 3d Battalion, in connection
with operations against enemy forces. In response to reports that
the 2d Platoon of M Co was in danger of being overrun by a massed
enemy assaulting force, Lt. Capodanno left the relative safety
of the company command post and ran through an open area raked
with fire, directly to the beleaguered platoon.
the intense enemy small-arms, automatic-weapons, and mortar fire,
he moved about the battlefield administering last rites to the
dying and giving medical aid to the wounded. When an exploding
mortar round inflicted painful multiple wounds to his arms and
legs, and severed a portion of his right hand, he steadfastly
refused all medical aid. Instead, he directed the corpsmen to
help their wounded comrades and, with calm vigor, continued to
move about the battlefield as he provided encouragement by voice
and example to the valiant marines.
a wounded corpsman in the direct line of fire of an enemy machine
gunner positioned approximately 15 yards away, Lt. Capodanno rushed
a daring attempt to aid and assist the mortally wounded corpsman.
At that instant, only inches from his goal, he was struck down
by a burst of machinegun fire. By his heroic conduct on the battlefield,
and his inspiring example, Lt. Capodanno upheld the finest traditions
of the US Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the cause
September 4th, 1967
was at that time a L/CPL. walking point for 1st Plt., 1st Sqd., Mike
Co. 3/5, 1st Mar. Div. when the NVA opened up on us that afternoon.
I knew Capodanno was with our company. When I got back to a bomb crater
up the small hill later that night, a wounded Marine told me Capodanno
was one of the KIAs wrapped in a poncho along with the other Marines
who died that day.
Early the next morning, I listened to the wounded and the still-walking
talk about how Capodanno gave up his life to help the fallen wounded,
bringing them to safe cover and giving last rites to the men who were
dying in the field of fire. Father Capodanno cared more about the men
he was with than he did his own life that day, and I honor him for that.
I also learned that next morning that my friend Doc Leal was dead. They
were both killed together. Capodanno giving last rites to a wounded
Marine from 2nd Plt. and Doc Leal trying to patch the Marine up. Great
men from Mike Co. died that day. They all deserve the highest honors.
Gift From God"
knew the Padre the summer of 1967, as did a lot of us. He was a wonderful
man, but even more, you could tell he was something special, the way
he cared, spoke to you, you could tell.
Sept. 4, 1967, the Marines of Mike Company were boarding the choppers,
something big was up, and here comes the Padre. I remember saying to
him, "Padre good luck, and be careful." He said something
back to us, and took off. He took it upon himself to go out that day.
They, his superiors, would have never let him go out there unless he
was out with the Battalion command. We knew the restraints that were
put on him because there were only two Chaplins for the Fifth Regiment.
after the choppers left, I went to my bunker and fell asleep for an
hour or two when somebody woke me up saying, "Mike Company's been
wiped out and Farther Capodanno has been killed." Within a few
minutes, we were on tanks heading for Mike Co. It took us two days to
get to their battle area, so many dead, so many bodies,
day, Sept. 6, 1967, India Co. found the same enemy force, and
we too, were just about wiped out. I got my first Purple Heart on that
operation they called SWIFT, and from what I've read they say it was
one of the bloodiest battles of the War, but who knows.
was raised Irish-Catholic, and as you know, the Padre was from Staten
Island, New York. About seven years ago, there was a memorial service
for him on Staten Island, and I went and met his family and friends.
They have a BOULEVARD named after him, and a beautiful monument in a
small park area near his home.
I can say is to have known him was a great honor, and to meet someone
of that quality in your life time is a "gift from God."
Costello, India Co. 3/5
was with M Co. 3/5 on Sept. 4, 1967 on Operation SWIFT serving as 81
mm mortar FO. Father Capodanno was traveling right behind me and my
radioman. When we came under fire, the word was to move up to the bomb
crater, and we started to make our way up there. But not Corpsman Leal
and Father Capodanno. The last I saw of them, they were attending a
wounded Marine. The corpsman was working on him, and the Padre was giving
last rites. That was just like him to think of others, and not of his
5, 1967 was a very sad day for me when I saw both of these kind, caring
men had died. Such a good person that I will always miss and think of
everytime I go to a church. I became Catholic after the war, and owe
a big part of my conversion to him for changing. I was so blessed to
have known this man.
Fred Riddle, M Co. 3/5
have a very special place in my heart for Father Capodanno. From the
first day I met him, I knew he was a Chaplain for the field Marine.
Previous chaplains would disappear when we mounted out on an operation,
however, it was clear that Father Capodanno knew where he was needed.
During the time he was with the battalion, I spent countless hours talking
with him; about faith, and just life in general; and I always found
him a true inspiration. It was interesting, he never asked if I was
a Catholic, and I was not at that time. He did regularly offer me communion
and his blessings and believe me, I welcomed the comfort he provided
me. Father Capodanno was always there when he was needed, and I never
knew of a Marine in 3/5 who didn't say how much they loved him, and
that was long before he was killed. At the time of his death he was
elevated to Sainthood in my eyes!
later when my wife wanted our daughter to attend CCD, the local priest
called to find out if there were Catholics in our family, because we
were not registered in his parish. Janet asked me if I would go with
her to speak to the priest and I knew from that moment that I would
convert to Catholicism. In this small way, I wanted to honor the memory
of Father Capodanno.~Byron
Hill, H&S and M/3/5
Marines' Guardian Angel
the night that they moved out on Operation SWIFT, I was with the regimental
command group and we were staying behind until later. I was at the staging
area talking to some of the Marines that I knew when I saw the Padre.
For some reason, I asked him if he had forgotten about the Bible that
he was going to give me. He acknowledged that he had, and tossing his
gear down, he was off like an arrow back to his hutch to get it for
after he returned, they loaded and left the area. I have often wondered
if I had been a few seconds later, would I have delayed him long enough
so that he would have missed the lift off.
still have that Bible, and have used it a lot over the years. For the
remainder of my military service it was the last thing into my seabag
and the first thing out. Wherever I went it had a place of honor and
has always been available for anyone to read who desired to do so. I
didn't know the Padre as well as many of my Marines did. But, when I
heard about his death I was just as devastated and mad and frustrated
as anyone else who had met him. Having been raised a Protestant I was
greatly impressed by the fact that the Padre did not discriminate between
faiths. He accepted anyone to his services who wanted to join in. There
were many times when I took communion from him right along side Catholics.
He was not the average Catholic Priest, there was something different
about him, he was destined for something special. Too bad that he had
to die at such a young age and in such a violent manner to achieve that
plateau. Who knows? Maybe some day it will be Saint Vincent.....the
Marines' guardian angel.
"Doc" Dave Magnenat
FMF Corpsman, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines
of the Guys
was a real blood bath. Our two 81's that were assigned to India Co.
were left at Hill 63 for security, all the others went out. I remember
having bunker duty one night when we were told a cruiser was off shore
and was going to fire in support of Swift, the shells came right over
us, 8-inch shells I think, the sound was unbelievable, like trees flying
through the air. A lot of the dead were being brought back by helicopter
to the Reg. area, they must have been out on the field for a while because
the smell was really bad. When the rest of our guns came back, they
told us this was the worst operation they were on, this was from guys
who were on Ops UNION I-II, so I knew it had to be bad. Then we heard
about Fr. Capodanno.
81 mortars were located across the road about 75 yds. from Father Capodanno's
tent. Many times while having gun drill we would see the Father sitting
in his rocker or lawn chair by his desk. Once we were burning crappers
not too far from our area when Father stopped by us to talk. He spoke
with us for about 15 mins. All our hearts were broken when we heard
of his death, and how he died. He was one of the guys.
Dave Wajda, H&S 3/5/81s
from THE BIRMINGHAM TIMES of Father Capodanno's death.
Frank Jurney, M/3/5
Mass, 13 Sept. 1967, Da Nang, Viet Nam
did not know Father Vincent personally, but I did have a chance to attend
his services in Da Nang on 13 Sept. 1967, 1030. I still have in my possession
a copy of the Memorial Mass. Father Vincent, God bless you, and
may you rest in peace. You are a true hero.~Robert
E. Filice, HQ/5th Marines, and 3/5, 6/67-7/68
Capt. John A. Keeley, CHC, USN First Division Chaplain
LCDR Eli Takesian, CHC, USN Regimental Chaplain, Fifth Marines
Memorial Prayers: Capt Henry T. Lavin, CHC, USN Third Division Chaplain
Father Capodanno's Memorial Mass
written to Father Vincent Capodanno's Brother, James, by 3/5 Navy Corpsman
Vic Perez. Father Capodanno was Killed In Action 4 September 1967 while
serving with the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines during Operation SWIFT.
From: Vic "Doc" Perez
To: James Capodanno
Dear Mr. Capodanno,
don't know me, but I wanted to write and personally thank you for the
St. Christopher medal Gerry Pendas and Ed Fitzgerald requested on my
behalf. I was a Navy Corpsman with the 3rd Bn. 5th Mar. 1st Mar. Division,
and served with your brother after I finished my tour with "K"
Company 3/5. I believe that we both arrived at the Battalion around
the same time. I had survived my time looking after my Marines in combat,
and was to serve the rest of my tour at the Battalion Aid Station
before rotating back to the States. It was there that I met, and got
to know Father Capodanno, and over time, considered him a friend.
thought of his family often over the years, and hoped that they understood
the love he had for 'his Marines.' As a Combat Corpsman, this was something
your Brother and I shared. Many a time we divided up the body and the
soul of an errant Marine, and put forth our best efforts to get him
back on track.
don't know if the Good Father ever shared the story with you about the
Marine that had had too much beer, and was feeling real put out because
the 1st Sgt. would not okay his request for leave to return to the US
to settle a disagreement with his girlfriend. It was one of those rare
times that some of the beer had made it out as far as our hill, and
we were all taking advantage of it while it lasted. The Marine in question
had gotten a little obnoxious and I tossed him out of the Beer Tent,
and told him to go sober up.
Marine returned about an hour later, demanding to talk to me, outside
away from the tent, and the other Marines. Not knowing his intentions
and all Marines during that time walked around fully loaded and armed
to the teeth I first stripped the bolt from his weapon, disarming it
before any discussions occurred. With the bolt safely in my pocket,
a very tearful and confused Marine confessed to me that for the last
hour he had been lying in wait up where the 1st Sgt. had his tent, waiting
for him to show up so he could kill him. There are times when a Marine
tends to confuse a Corpsman with a Chaplain, and this was definitely
one of those times. After I felt that I had correctly accessed the situation
prompted by the fact that there was still beer that needed drinking
I and my Marine in tow, went in search for the Padre. I
knew by past experience that Father Capodanno would normally be in his
tent at that hour, either writing letters, or reading. True to his character,
the Padre treated this intrusion as an opportunity to assist one of
his Marines, any clime, any time. I used the side of the Padre's tent
to support the Marine, braced by his rifle, and went on to explain what
the problem was. When I got to the part about the 1st Sgt. and the Marine's
intentions, I knew I had the good Father's utmost attention. We both
came to a quick agreement that it was not soul saving, prayer, or preaching
that was needed, but an understanding ear, followed up with a stern
"Father to Son" type talk.
Padre assured me that he was up to the challenge, and I was now free
to return to reducing the supply of beer available tour rag tag organization.
Just as it appeared that Father Capodanno had worked out how to get
our Marine unjammed and off the side of his tent, I pulled the bolt
of his rifle from my pocket, and said, "Oh, by the way...it seemed
like a good idea at the time that I should disarm him, considering circumstances...Feel
free to give it back to him when you're through!" I honestly believe
that was the only time I had ever witnessed a stutter from the good
was just one of the many such stories that I've told over and over throughout
the years. I've felt honored that I was fortunate to have met and known
your brother, and have been faithfully doing what I can to keep his
had only about seven days left on my tour in Vietnam, and was ordered
back in combat due to the losses of our field Medical Corpsmen, and
the severity of "Operation Swift." If my memory serves me
right, it was four days before the dead and wounded could be evac'd
from the field due to the intense fighting. It was within those first
few days that we received, and were stunned by the news of Father Capodanno's
death. There were no details available at that time, as to the circumstances
and events that led up to his death.
request was made to the Battalion Aid Station to send someone that knew
Chaplain Capodanno and bring his dental records so that a positive identification
could be made. I was assigned that task, not because I was the
one most qualified to perform this duty, but it was my Chief's way of
making sure I got home safely. My replacement was to accompany me, assist
me in whatever way he could, then wish me goodbye and good luck. He
was to return with the information, and I was to continue on and wait
for my plane home.
regretfully say that I was unable to carry out my task. Not only was
I unable to identify your brother, due to the number of the casualties,
and the confusion that is common to the situation, I was unable to locate
has only been in the last four years that I was able to learn the whole
story through my research, and attempts to locate some of the surviving
corpsmen and Marines from my old unit. There's about thirty of us that
stay in touch very regularly, and do what we can to keep those memories
alive, part of which is how your brother touched our lives. We are all
richer in life for knowing him.
thank you for your consideration. The St. Christopher's Medal has more
than a religious significance to me, and is a constant reminder of a
friend and comrade that I respected and miss dearly. I hope this letter
finds you well...Thanks again, and Semper Fi, Mr. Capodanno.
Vic "Doc" Perez
3rd Battalion, 5th Marines
Last Evening With Father Capodanno
evening of Sept 3, 1967, I was sorting H&S Company mail. I had mail
for Comm. 1st Sgt. Smith, Commanding Officer, and for Chaplain (Father)
Capodanno. I went delivering mail on Hill 63. When I got to the 1st
Sgt. and Lt. Col. Tent, then I was given an order to give to Father
Capodanno that the Main Group wasn't moving out the following morning
because the line companies were going to meet heavy enemy resistance,
and the main H&S Co. Body (called Group) was going to move out later
when it was safer to make an H&S Base Camp for Supplies.
got to Father Capodanno's Sleeping Quarters, greeted him, and gave him
his mail. Told him what the Lt. Col. and 1st Sgt. asked me to tell him
about H&S Co. (Group) wasn't moving out early the following morning.
He said "Fine," but he did mention that his fellow Marines
needed him in the time of pain, sorrow and dying. He did mention that
he was getting short, he meant his tour of duty in Viet Nam was coming
to an end, was going to return to CONUS (State side), but was planning
to extend for six more months, and stay with his Marines that needed
him so much. He said that he loved his Marines, then I wished him a
good night, and returned to my Hootch to hit the sack.
following afternoon, way after I finished daily diary, we got word at
H&S Co. office tent that Father Capodanno was KIA (Killed In Action).
I couldn't believe what I heard, and immediately I went to his Hootch
(his tent), and he wasn't there, nor his Pack that he carried with him.
Then reality hit me that the message was true.
was one of my saddest days in Viet Nam for me. In War, you don't have
time to grieve, or shed a tear. Father Capodanno died with no mass,
or paying our respects, life goes on. But when you're young, and don't
understand life or what people tell you, sometimes you don't understand.
May God Bless him for his Actions. Semper FI! Pete Morales,
Member, 1st Marine Division
Capodanno had been a missionary in the Far East before he was a Marine;
he came to the 1st Marine Division in early 1966. When he spoke, softly,
and quietly, his voice and appearance were almost Christlike. He briefed
the officers at Division headquarters, but his place was with his men.
His story should be a motion picture, an inspiration to all who would
know faith, courage and sacrifice. I "watched" his Medal of
Honor news come in at the television station, and I cried.~Len
of Father Capodanno's name from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
(courtesy of Terry O'Tell,
Chaplain/Cross graphic by Redeye)
(Fr. Capodanno Medal of Honor graphic by Vic Vilionis, 7th Marines)