A Tribute to Grunt Padre by Sergeant Melissa Karnath, USMC
MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Virginia — Amidst the flying bullets, explosions and chaos of an ambush, a chaplain hurries from one wounded Marine to the next.
Wounded and refusing medical evacuation, he seeks to locate, comfort, minister and provide any aid he can to injured troops. Sighting a corpsman wounded in the leg and unable to move, the unarmed chaplain hurries to help. Machine gun fire cuts through the air and hits the chaplain with more than 25 bullets as he reaches the corpsman.
Navy Lt. Vincent Capodanno gave his life providing support to his service members. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his gallantry and heroic conduct while serving with the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment in Vietnam, September 4, 1967.
Capodanno’s Medal of Honor was donated by his family, and dedicated to the Capodanno Chapel at The Basic School at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia December 9, 2014.
The tiny chapel was packed with Marine veterans who served with the 5th Marine Regiment in Vietnam, many chaplains of the United States Navy and active duty Marines. They all listened silently about Capodanno’s life and sacrifice.
“This event is about the heart and the character of a man,” said Rear Adm. Brent Scott, 19th Chaplain of the Marine Corps and Deputy Chief of Navy Chaplains. “The story of Chaplain Capodanno is a story of real courage. It was who he was called to be to those Marines.”
Throughout the ceremony the audience of Marines and Navy chaplains learned how Capodanno was a constant companion to his Marines. He became known as the “Grunt Padre” because he lived, ate, and slept in the same conditions as the Marines.
The chaplain also established libraries, gathered and distributed gifts, and organized outreach programs for the locals. He spent hours reassuring the weary, consoling the grieving, listening to confessions and guiding converts.
“Father Capodanno felt adamantly called to serve the Marines in Vietnam as a Navy chaplain,” said Lt. Christopher Earley, Chaplain of The Basic School. “After his tour, he was granted a six-month extension.
“Close to the end of that extension he requested an additional two month extension in order to provide services for his Marines during the upcoming Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.”
During the dedication ceremony Capodanno’s Medal of Honor was unveiled followed by the reading of the citation.
“This is a story of the great partnership between the Navy and Marine Corps,” said Col. Christian Wortman, commanding officer of The Basic School. “It is an incredible honor for The Basic School to be able to honor the service and the memory of Father Capodanno.
“This is a tribute to our Navy brothers and sisters, who serve wherever Marines serve and caring for them in their most desperate hours. We will be proud hosts to this medal and proud keepers of this memory.”
The ceremony concluded with the playing of taps by Cpl. Derrek Eldredge, trumpet player for the Quantico Marine Corps Band, followed by the playing of Anchors Aweigh and the Marines’ Hymn.
“In an interview last year, Capt. Eli Takesian, the eighth Chaplain of the Marine Corps, who knew Chaplain Capodanno very well reflected on the impact of Chaplain C’s sacrificial death,” Scott said. “He said, ‘I remember one Marine immediately after hearing the news of Chaplain Capodanno’s death was so choked up and asking how Chaplain Capodanno could allow his own life to be taken when he loved life so much.’ Eli Takesian answered, ‘It was precisely because he loved life the lives of others, that he freely gave his own.”
Note: For the complete story of Chaplain Capodanno, read Father Daniel L. Mode’s book of the same title. You can review the book here.
Hat tip: Hobbot Sam