STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. --
Marine honor guards and veterans paid tribute, a Marine helicopter flew overhead, and representatives of the sea services joined hundreds of others here last week in celebrating the life of Navy Lt. Vincent Capodanno, the “Grunt Padre,” on the 40th anniversary of his heroism and sacrifice in Vietnam.
Featuring a color guard from 1st Marine Corps District Headquarters in Garden City, N.Y., and a platoon of Marines from Recruiting Station New Jersey in Colts Neck, N.J., the memorial service and wreath laying ceremony followed a mass for “Father Vince” in the chapel bearing his name on Fort Wadsworth, a Coast Guard installation. Praised by those who served alongside him as well as those who followed in his footsteps, Capodanno was remembered as a dedicated priest, missionary, chaplain, brother, friend and deserving recipient of the nation’s highest military honor.
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Chaplain of the 3rd Battalion, in connection with operations against enemy forces,” reads the Congressional Medal of Honor citation awarded posthumously to Capodanno, documenting his actions in support of 2nd Platoon, ‘M’ Co., 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, in Quang Tin Province, Republic of Vietnam, on Sep. 4, 1967.
Administering medical aid and last rites throughout a fierce battle, “Father Vince” disregarded his own severe wounds to continue reaching fallen Marines and corpsmen in danger before he was struck down by machine gun fire. The citation concludes that by “his heroic conduct on the battlefield, and his inspiring example…he gallantly gave his life in the cause of freedom.”
The commemoration’s keynote address was provided by Navy Rear Adm. Alan “Blues” Baker, U.S. Navy Deputy Chief of Chaplains and Chaplain of the Marine Corps. Baker spoke of what a tremendous inspiration Capodanno is to the entire Chaplain Corps to this day, using his story as the supreme example of the sacrifice a prospective chaplain should be willing to make.
Also leading the ceremony were Coast Guard Capt. Robert O’Brien, Commander of USCG Sector New York; Capt. William Cuddy, Chaplain of the Coast Guard; Cdr. Michael E. Hall, Command Chaplain of USCG Sector New York; Rear Adm. William Kloner, Jewish Chaplain of Sector NY; and Monsignor James Dorney, Catholic Chaplain. Sailors from the Navy and Coast Guard joined the Marines in honoring Capodanno, as did priests from the Maryknoll Fathers, the Catholic missionary order which Capodanno served in Hong Kong and Taiwan prior to joining the Navy in order to serve with combat Marines.
Punctuating the ceremony’s impact was a flyover by a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 774, out of Norfolk, Va. The blades roared overhead between the blessing of the Capodanno monument by Archbishop Edwin O’Brien, Apostolic Administrator for the Military Services, and the wreath laying by Vincent’s brother Jim Capoddano, a Marine who served in the 2nd Tank Battalion in Japan.
Marine veterans and others gathered in attendance craned their necks for a view of the aircraft, a fitting reminder of the helicopters that ferried the Grunt Padre into battle 40 years ago. From the chapel itself to Father Vincent Capodanno Boulevard, there is no shortage of reminders here of the chaplain who made the ultimate sacrifice for his Marines.