Memorial Day and our Chaplains

Capodanno_prayercardIt is fitting to honor those who served in the armed forces and who gave their lives.

Today I especially have in mind fallen military chaplains.  Here is just one example of service and valor for love of God, neighbor and country.

Father Vince Capodanno was Maryknoll missionary priest.  He was sent first to the missions in Taiwan and later joined the US Navy and served with the 7th Marines in Vietnam and then, after working at the naval hospital, with the 5th Marines.

On 4 September 1967 there was a terrible battle in Que-Son Valley.  As the battle developed Fr. Capodanno heard over the radio that things were getting dicey and  so he requested to go out with M company.

As they approached the small village of Chau Lam, they were caught under fire on a knoll.  There was terrible fighting, even hand to hand, and they were almost over run.  Father Capodanno was wounded in the face and his hand was almost severed by a mortar round but he continued to giving last rites and take care of his Marines.  He was killed trying to get to a wounded marine only 15 yards away from an enemy machine gun.

In January 1969, Lieutenant Vincent R. Capodanno, MM, became the second chaplain in United States history to receive our nation’s highest military honor. “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty …”, he was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Medal of Honor Citation:

Medal-of-honorFor 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 Company 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 machine gun fire.

By his heroic conduct on the battlefield, and his inspiring example, Lt. Capodanno upheld the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the cause of freedom.

In addition, he was also awarded the National Defense Service Medal and the Vietnam Service Medal. The government of Vietnam awarded him the Vietnamese Gallantry Cross with Silver Star and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with device.

Fr. Capodanno’s cause has been opened:

Prayer to Obtain a Favor Through the Intercession of the Servant of God Father Vincent R. Capodanno, M.M. by Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio

Almighty and merciful God, look with Love on those who plead for Your help. Through the intercession of your servant, Father Vincent Capodanno, missionary and Catholic Navy Chaplain, grant the favor I earnestly seek (mention the request). May Vincent, who died bringing consolation to the Marines he was privileged to serve on the field of battle, intercede in my need as I pray in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

I want to add a word of thanks to a priest friend of mine, Fr. Tim Vakoc, with whom I was in seminary.  He suffered serious wounds in Iraq, which, after causing years of suffering, eventually lead to his passing away. May he rest in peace.

These men served in hell armed with love of God and love of country.  We should remember chaplains.


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  1. mike aquilina says:

    I remember reading the story of Father Lawrence Lynch, an army chaplain at the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945. When he saw a man fall mortally wounded, he ignored orders to stay put and leapt from his foxhole to give the soldier last rites. As Father Lynch held up the Host, a shell exploded nearby and killed the priest instantly. Witnessing this scene, the officer who had ordered Father Lynch to stay in the foxhole scrambled to his side to take the sacred Host from his hands and consume it, lest it be desecrated.

    Father Lynch’s nephew, Jim Farnan, was ordained for my diocese a few years back.

  2. Mike: Thanks for that. These are true MEN, aren’t they? That one is worthy of martyrs of the ancient church.

    What you wrote is perhaps one of the only good reasons I can think of to receive Holy Communion in the hand.

    And that was a PERFECT reception Communion in the hand!

  3. Jack says:

    I served in Vietnam and briefly met Father Charles Joseph Watters. Our unit was in Dak To supporting the 173rd Airborne during this bloody struggle with North Vietnamese “regulars”. He was killed on November 19th 1967 “being a priest” May he rest in peace!
    From his Medal of Honor Citation:
    Chaplain Watters was a 40-year-old native of Jersey City, New Jersey.  After his ordination in 1953, he served parishes in his home town as well as in Rutherford, Paramus, and Cranford, New Jersey.  
    In  1962 he became a chaplain in the Air National Guard and two years later entered active duty as an Army chaplain.  In July 1967 he had already completed his 12-month tour in Vietnam but had voluntarily extended his service there by 6 months.  On 19 November 1967 his unit was involved in close combat with the enemy.  For his “conspicuous gallantry … unyielding perseverance and selfless devotion to his comrades” on that day, Chaplain Watters was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by Vice President Spiro Agnew on 4 November 1969.

  4. catholiclady says:

    Another hero!

    Well I think most priests are heros fighting the biggest battle of all – the one against satan. (hope that does not sound too corny – suddenly I got a picture of lights dimming, spotlight focus on priest, music playing “you never knew you were my hero”).

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