Vincent was, by all accounts, an average fellow. Out of 80 in his graduating class from seminary, he finished 43rd.
The youngest of a large New York family of Italian immigrants, Vincent Capodanno showed few remarkable traits.
Ordained a priest in 1958, he went abroad as a missionary to Taiwan, but struggled learning the foreign languages required for his work. He seemed a mediocre missionary. Perhaps Father Capodanno was meant for some other calling.
He found that calling in 1966, as a Navy Chaplain. Soon assigned to a Marine battalion in Vietnam, he began to thrive in his newfound vocation. Known to his Marines as the “Grunt Padre”, his life was no easier than theirs.
Before every operation, he would ask the intelligence officer which unit would likely take the brunt of the action and the most casualties. Father Capodanno would always be seen with that unit.
He exemplified heroic energy in his day-to-day life. Living in the same miserable conditions as his Marines, he would spend the entirety of each day in service.
Rising early and offering Mass and religious instruction, he would spend the day visiting with troops and performing staff duties. In the evenings, he would spend the last few hours of the day sending letters to the families of Marines in his unit.
He continued this daily routine, punctuated by accompanying his Marines on combat patrols (rare for military chaplains) during which he performed repeated acts of bravery.
On September 4, 1967, he was on one such patrol. Caught in the middle of a firefight, he refused care to his own shrapnel wounds so that he could tend to others.
While his company was surrounded on a hilltop, Father Capodanno repeatedly exposed himself to give last rites to dying men and care for the wounded, all under fire. On one such occasion, he put his own body between a wounded Marine and an enemy machine gunner.
Caught by a burst of machine gun fire, Father Capodanno was killed instantly.
Father Capodanno lived and died in the spirit of Christ’s sacrifice. Greater love has no man than this; that he lay down his life for his friends.
His life is a reminder of our vocation to sacrifice. We are all called to put others before ourselves, to die to our self and our own desires daily.
We’ve all found ourselves in a rut: our lives seem to be going nowhere, God might seem distant, and our talents seem wasted.
We can step out of such a mess by imitating the life-affirming energy of Father Capodanno’s every action. Discouraged in one field of service, Father Capodanno did not give in to despair, but realized his happiness could only be found in greater suffering and a more complete sacrifice.
With a willing heart, he answered the call. We’re asked for nothing more, and nothing less.
Interested in learning more about Fr. Capodanno? Read an excellent (and brief!) book titled “Armed with Faith: The Life of Father Vincent R. Capodanno, MM.”
Eddie Hoffmann is a Catholic seminarian studying to serve the Church in southwestern Ohio and an intern at St. Columbkille in Wilmington. He is also a former Chaplain in the U.S. Army.