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Born on Feb. 13, 1929
Casualty was on Sept. 4, 1967

Panel 25E - - Line 95

Capt. 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.

God bless and Semper Fidelis, Father Vince

Operation SWIFT
 Mike 3/5 Wall of Honor 
Lima 3/5 Wall of Honor

CAPODANNO, 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, N.Y.

Medal of Honor Citation:

For conspicuous 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.

Disregarding 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.

Upon encountering 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 of freedom.

Operation SWIFT
September 4th, 1967

I 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.

Semper Fi,
Jack Swan


"A Gift From God"

I 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. 

On 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. 

Well, 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, 

That 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.  

I 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. 

All 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."

John Costello, India Co. 3/5 


True Valor

I 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 own safety.

Sept. 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.

Semper Fi,
Fred Riddle, M Co. 3/5


Father Capodanno

I 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!

Years 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

On 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 me.

Shortly 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.

I 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.

Semper Fi,
"Doc" Dave Magnenat
FMF Corpsman, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines


One of the Guys

SWIFT...it 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.  

Our 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.

Semper Fi, 
Dave Wajda, H&S 3/5/81s

(click to enlarge)

Newsclipping from THE BIRMINGHAM TIMES of Father Capodanno's death.
Frank Jurney, M/3/5


Requiem Mass, 13 Sept. 1967, Da Nang, Viet Nam

I 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

Celebrant: Capt. John A. Keeley, CHC, USN First Division Chaplain 
Eulogist: LCDR Eli Takesian, CHC, USN Regimental Chaplain, Fifth Marines
Memorial Prayers: Capt Henry T. Lavin, CHC, USN Third Division Chaplain 

FrVince4.jpg (105668 bytes)FrVince5.jpg (74736 bytes)
(click to enlarge)

Father Capodanno's Memorial Mass


Letter 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.

14 November 1996

From: Vic "Doc" Perez
To: James Capodanno

Dear Mr. Capodanno,

You 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.

 I've 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.

I 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. 

The 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. 

The 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 Father.

This 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 memory alive.

I 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.

A 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.

 I 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 him.

It 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.

I 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


My Last Evening With Father Capodanno

The 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.

I 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.

The 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.

That 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, H&S 3/5


Fellow Member, 1st Marine Division

Father 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 Faseler

Rubbing of Father Capodanno's name from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
(courtesy of Terry O'Tell, M/3/5)


(Navy/Marine Chaplain/Cross graphic by Redeye)
(Fr. Capodanno Medal of Honor graphic by Vic Vilionis, 7th Marines)