Father Vincent Capodanno
This is a remembrance from Corporal Ray Harton,
who met Father Capodanno four times, the last when the Father was killed and Ray
was wounded. The picture at the bottom is of a statue of Father Capodanno.
Should you wish to read the citation of the Medal of Honor awarded to the Father
please click here.
"1967 may seem a long time ago to a lot of folks. To many it is a thought away. Sometime in 1992 I was alone in my home reading the newly arrived Leatherneck, first thing I always did was look at the Mail Call section. Something or someone kept me looking for that Magazine every month, hoping to remember a name. There it was, Father Capodanno. A seminarian in Maryland was looking for anyone who remembered this Chaplain who was killed on Sept.4th 1967 with his Marines. My wife woke me from a deep thought, asked if I was alright. I folded the page and set it aside. About a week later she asked me if I was going to contact Fr.Mode about the Magazine article. My wife and I had shared a little about the War, not much, over our 20 years of Marriage. Wives are pretty sharp, she knew.
I wrote Fr.Mode, cannot remember what I wrote to him, but I received a letter back from him wanting to agree on a interview and a paper to sign. I never contacted him again, he was writing a book about Fr.Vince, but I was having none of it, I felt ashamed I guess.
Last year my son presented me with a computer for Christmas. I started learning and searching, my searches were all Marine and Veteran Sites. I knew three names. Father Capodanno, Sgt.Peters, and Corpsman Leal. I left messages in all the sites that offered guestbooks. There were others that I could not put names too, and still cannot. Sometime last spring, someone wrote me a reply giving me Fr.Mode's e-mail address, that he had written a book about Father Capodanno and would like to hear from me. I e-mailed Fr.Mode and for the first time since 1967, I felt comfortable explaining my relationship with Chaplain Capodanno. Within 1 hour of my e-mail, Fr.Mode returned my mail stating he was having a book signing in Maryland in two days, I wrote him back and told him I was
coming to Washington to speak with him. A greater power was at work that night, and still is, Father Capodanno has not left us, all of us, he is still at work.
I met Father Capodanno 4 times during my short tour in Vietnam with "Mike" Company, Third Battalion, 5th Marines. I arrived "in country" sometime mid-July 1967. Was placed in "India" Co. for a few days then transferred to "Mike". We were based at Hill#10 for a short time, with a Arty. Unit, then on Hill#55. Still not quite sure about the hills. A few of us had just been on patrol and were entering the "Chow" tent and noticed a small group talking and laughing. We grabbed our cold soup and walked over and were greated by a tall leathery man who immediately grabbed your attention. He was just like one of the Marines, cannot remember all the conversation, but can remember him having alot of smokes, the large packs, and they were Winston's. His voice was what set him off from the rest, soft spoken, yet gruff enough to keep your attention. He prayed with us, and let us know he was there if needed with any problems we were having about our duty or problems back home. I was raised Catholic and it was the first time since my joining the Marine Corps I had visited with a Catholic Priest. I felt good.
It was middle August I believe before I saw him again. Operation Cochise was beginning, we were all in our tent the night before, suddenly out of the night appeared Fr.Vince. He visited with us for a while, I had a wedding ring on that a friend had given me when I left home, he asked me how my wife was and if I needed anything. I kinda laughed and explained to him it was a gift from a friend, a good luck charm, and wasn't supposed to take it off while in Vietnam. He was passing out some literature that he copied from a Marine Magazine, didn't have enough to go around so we shared reading it. It was a poem about the Marines. I still have a copy of it. He prayed with us, "God is with all of us this day", was what I can remember, "keep the faith". He made us all feel good in his presence. He seemed to have a "Glow" about him, like a magnetic glow. Operation Cochise ran its course without much problems as I can remember. We lost no Marines in my unit on that Operation.
It was Sunday, Sept.3rd, word came from Sgt.Pete that there was Mass going on. Cannot remember where it was, but it was around some Ammo storage. Fr.Vince had built his Altar from crates and had a group assembled. As before, I cannot remember his words, but remember that good feeling I always had inside when I was around him. Mass ended and he stated he would be available if anyone wanted to speak with him. I think alot of us were in a hurry to be the first to chow.
Sunday night, early Monday morning, the 4th of Sept, Sgt. Peters came and woke us up early, we were going out, another Marine unit had run into trouble, and we were to get ready for the choppers. We waited a long time, but finally we boarded the choppers, it was sometime around mid-morning or noon. Sgt. Peters had a funny look on his face when he gave us the "scoop". He looked concerned, more than usual. We landed at the Landing Zone, and began a long and hot "hump",
hills, a small village that had been bombed, on into the afternoon, with several stops and radio conversations by the Commanders.
Sometime late afternoon we heard scattered fire, we had stopped close to a small hill. Sgt.Pete came running up and told us 1st Platoon had been hit hard and we are going to help them. We ran some, walked some and approached the top of the Hill and the carnage started. All I can remember is Sgt. Pete screaming "Get that Gun" and I was hit in the left arm that spun me to the ground, another shot shattered my rifle. I was screaming, along with other members of my squad, we were being shot at every move we made. The machine gun was close, 15 to 25 yards away, in a thicket, part way down the far slop of the small hill or knoll I called it. This very hard for me. I can remember seeing the North Vietnamese troops moving and
coming toward me, there were Marines lying all around me, and I was calling for help, while with every beat of my fast pumping heart, my life blood was spurting on the ground. I could hear someone holler "Corpsman", but everytime I would move, that gun would shoot at me, and the other Marines. At a distance I could see Doc Leal moving from Marine to Marine, and he was looking at me. I knew I was going to die, I was not able to defend myself, and the NVA were
coming after me, that was my fear.
Through all the noise and hearing myself scream, someone touched me. I had rolled myself on my left side to put pressure on my left arm and elbow, and someone touched me, it was Fr.Vince. As I looked into his eyes, all things got silent. Not a sound could be heard. No screaming, nothing but the sound of his soft voice, and the look of
compassion in his eyes. "Stay calm Marine, someone will be here to help, God is with all of us this day!". I could see Sgt.Peters laying on the ground, blood
coming from his mouth, Corpsman Leal moving in my direction, but I was not scared any longer. I was at peace. Fr. Vince was bare headed, blood on his face and neck, his right hand was mangled with a bloody compress
hastily attached. He cupped the back of my head in an attempt to raise me off my arm, when all of a sudden I heard a scream, "my
leg", "my leg", and I was back in the war. I glanced over and Corpsman Leal was sitting on the ground screaming about 25 feet from me. Fr. Vince blessed me with his good hand and leaped up and darted to Corpsman Leal. I had come to my senses and was ready to fight, the words "get that gun" were still ringing in my head, I made an attempt to move when that gun opened up once more, not a me, but had caught Fr.Vince and Corpsman Leal and ended their lives, a long burst killed my savior, and my friends. Fr.Vince was gone, that image remains
foremost in my mind today. And the guilt of being the cause of this God Like Soul's death haunts me today. I got mad at God and mad at the enemy. I will not go into what happened later between me and that gun.
And this was the 4th time I met Fr.Vince. And it was the same as the first. His steadfast determination, calmness, and dedication to his "Mission", will always be in the minds of those who came in contact with him. His presence is still felt. At the time of his Death it is said, the 1st Marine Division was, as a whole, in shock. "The Padre" is dead is what I have been told, was the word that spread like wild fire. Sometime during the dark hours, I was found and dragged back to a large shell hole, I had survived. I began then, during the night, with the knowledge that we could be
overrun at anytime, pushing that memory of Fr.Vince and the others out of my mind. At least I thought I had. Father Vincent Robert Capodanno is still doing his work, he is not finished with us yet."