Hero Navy Chaplain Dies 54 Years Ago Today: September 4, 1967

By Guest Author, Tara Ross

On this day in 1967, a Navy chaplain makes the ultimate sacrifice as he ministers to his Marines during the Vietnam War. Father Vincent Capodanno would receive a Medal of Honor for his selfless actions on this day so long ago.

Father Capodanno has since been declared a “Servant of God” by the Catholic Church, and he is now being considered for sainthood.

Capodanno was no ordinary military chaplain! In fact, he was affectionately dubbed “The Grunt Padre” by his men because of his insistence upon sharing their burdens and duties—however dangerous they might be.

“He was not a religious leader who did his job and then returned to the comfort of his own circle,” Capodanno’s biographer writes. “He lived as a Grunt Marine. Wherever they went, he went. Whatever burdens they had to carry, he shared the load. No problem was too large or too small to take to Father Vincent—he was available to them day and night.”

That approach would cost Capodanno his life during Operation Swift, a Vietnam War operation during the fall of 1967. On September 4, a portion of Capodanno’s battalion was ambushed. The conflict turned into an all-out battle.

As a chaplain, Capodanno could easily have remained at the company command post. All things considered, it was a much safer place to be! But it also went against the grain for Capodanno to stay in a place of relative safety when his men were suffering. He wanted to be with them.

He “ran through an open area raked with gunfire, directly to the beleaguered platoon,”

MEDAL OF HONOR CITATION

He “ran through an open area raked with fire, directly to the beleaguered platoon,” his Medal citation reports. “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.”

During the course of his ministrations, Capodanno was seriously wounded in his arms and legs. His right hand was partially severed. And yet he continued on.

Capodanno was at the side of Sergeant Lawrence Peters when Peters passed away. The Sergeant had acted so heroically during the battle that he would receive his own Medal of Honor!

Peters did not have to die alone because of Capodanno.

Another Marine, Corporal Ray Harton, was wounded that day. Father Capodanno found him as he lay bleeding there on the battlefield. “As I closed my eyes, someone touched me,” Harton later reported. “When I opened my eyes, he looked directly at me. It was Father Capodanno. Everything got still: no noise, no firing, no screaming. A peace came over me that is unexplainable to this day. In a quiet, calm voice, he cupped the back of my head and said, ‘Stay quiet Marine. You will be okay. Someone will be here to help you soon. God is with us all this day.’”

The end came when Capodanno noticed a corpsman struggling with a wound to his leg. An enemy machine gun was still trained on the young man. “Fr. C. ran out to him and positioned himself between the injured boy and the automatic weapon,” Lieutenant Joseph E. Pilon later related. “Suddenly, the weapon opened up again and this time riddled Fr. C. from the back of his head to the base of his spine—and with his third Purple Heart of the day—Fr. C. went Home.”

When Father Capodanno’s body was recovered, it had 27 bullet wounds in it.

On this Labor Day weekend, perhaps it is appropriate to remember a man who labored so diligently for his God, his family of Marines, and his country.

RIP, Father Capodanno.


EDITOR’S NOTE:

Guest author, Tara Ross, is a mother, wife, writer, and retired lawyer. She is the author of The Indispensable Electoral College: How the Founders’ Plan Saves Our Country from Mob Rule,Enlightened Democracy: The Case for the Electoral College, co-author of Under God: George Washington and the Question of Church and State (with Joseph C. Smith, Jr.), & We Elect A President: The Story of our Electoral College. She is a constitutionalist, but with a definite libertarian streak! Stay tuned here for updates on pretty much anything to do with the Electoral College, George Washington, & our wonderfully rich American heritage.

History posts are copyright © 2013-2021 by Tara Ross. Please use the share feature instead of cutting/pasting.

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Vietnam Veterans Day, 2021

by HB Auld, Jr.

Today is National Vietnam War Veterans Day, a day set aside in 2017 to honor those men and women who served “in country” in the Republic of Vietnam and its waters during the 20-year war there.

March 29 was chosen as the day to honor these men and women because that is the day of the final withdrawal of US Forces from South Vietnam in 1973.

Since respect and combat support wasn’t immediately given to those who served after the war ended, this day was founded in 2017 to finally offer that respect to everyone involved.

This is the day set aside by Congress to “Thank a Vietnam Veteran” for his or her service. God bless my brothers and sisters who served in that terrible war in Vietnam.


Today is the 56th Anniversary of the Capture of the First Prisoner of War in Viet Nam

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by Tara Ross, Guest Author

On this day in 1964, a U.S. Navy pilot arrives at the soon-to-be-infamous “Hanoi Hilton.” LTJG Everett Alvarez, Jr. would spend a stunning 3,113 days in captivity, making him one of America’s longest-held POWs.

Alvarez’s troubles began on August 5. His plane took a hit during a bombing run, and he was forced to bail out. Mere minutes later, he was captured by Vietnamese fishermen.

Alvarez found himself in a rather tricky situation. Was he a prisoner-of-war with all the protections of that status? The North Vietnamese claimed that he was only a common criminal. (War had not been declared.) Similarly, how should he answer questions? At first, Alvarez gave only his name, rank, and serial number. But he soon realized that Vietnamese authorities had information obtained from the American media. How did that change what he could or couldn’t say?

For months, Alvarez had nothing to rely upon except his own wits. There wasn’t even another American POW around. He was barely surviving in a small cell on a starvation diet.

“Sometimes I lifted the cover off a plate and found a chicken head floating in grease,” he wrote, “or in a slimy stew or soup smelling of drainwater. At other times an animal hoof . . . . More than once a blackbird lay feet up on the plate, its head and feathers intact and the eyes open.”

Alvarez implemented strategies to sustain himself. He scratched a cross into a wall and hosted his own Catholic Mass. He etched the passage of time on walls. He did complex math problems and played chess against himself, just to keep his brain working. He had daily cleaning rituals, which (sort of) warded off the cat-sized rats that roamed around.

Other POWs began to arrive in 1965.

Their arrival made Alvarez’s life better—and worse. On one hand, he had companionship. The men developed a tap code that worked through walls. Their communications system, Alvarez would say, “became our lifeline . . . . It fueled our morale and stiffened our backbone. Above all, it kept us informed . . . . To be forewarned was to be forearmed.”

On the other hand, interrogations got a lot worse.

The North Vietnamese wanted letters and recordings for propaganda purposes. Americans were tortured if they refused to cooperate. On one occasion, Alvarez was told to write an apology. His arms were contorted and painfully bound until he finally complied. “For the first time in my life,” he later wrote, “I felt sheer hatred . . . . It took a few hours before I could hold the pencil and when I did, my writing looked like a drunkard’s scrawl. . . . I took pains to misspell words to make the confession as phony as possible.”

The arm torture left the skin on Alvarez’s hands deadened and black. Natural color didn’t return for two years.

On another occasion, Americans were marched through a frenzied crowd. They’d been tethered to each other, defenseless, as the mob madly beat and kicked them. “Our emaciated bodies, lacking nutrition, sunlight and exercise for so long, were ill-equipped to withstand this kind of ordeal,” Alvarez concluded.

The treatment of prisoners improved, but not until after Ho Chi Minh died in 1969. Finally, in 1973, the POWs were released.

Alvarez had been a captive since the very beginning—but he’d also been a pillar of strength for everyone else. “[A]ll the POWs, looked up to Ev,” one said. “He was one of those optimists who always thought we would get out the next day.”

Unfortunately, homecomings weren’t always so rosy. For Alvarez, the difficult news concerned his wife. During his absence, she obtained a divorce—and a baby with a new husband.

Fortunately, this hero’s story has a happy ending: Alvarez remarried, earned graduate degrees, and founded a wildly successful company.


Author’s Note: If you enjoy these history posts, please see my note below.

Gentle reminder: History posts are copyright © 2013-2020 by Tara Ross. I appreciate it when you use the share feature instead of cutting/pasting.

#TDIH#OTD#History#USHistory#liberty#freedom#ShareTheHistory

Guest author, Tara Ross, is a mother, wife, writer, and retired lawyer. She is the author of The Indispensable Electoral College: How the Founders’ Plan Saves Our Country from Mob Rule,Enlightened Democracy: The Case for the Electoral College, co-author of Under God: George Washington and the Question of Church and State (with Joseph C. Smith, Jr.), & We Elect A President: The Story of our Electoral College. She is a constitutionalist, but with a definite libertarian streak! Stay tuned here for updates on pretty much anything to do with the Electoral College, George Washington, & our wonderfully rich American heritage.