Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Grunt Padre

I just finished a book with the above title--the story of a heroic Navy Chaplain assigned to the Marines (thus the term"grunt") in the Vietnam era. He was killed in action earning the Medal of Honor trying to save the life of a Marine after he had spent hours giving last rites, helping the wounded and doing what he had been doing for many years having earned other medals before his last battle.

I would like to share a couple of paragraphs with you, beginning with his biographer's description of his attitude after years of research and getting to know the people who knew Fr. Vincent Robert Capodanno best and does a superb job of helping us to know him as well.

"The Vietnam War, like all wars, was fought to conquer and destroy the enemy in order to achieve a military goal; but military goals are not ends in themselves. They are set in light of some higher goal--in this case, the defense of freedom. For Father Vincent, the United States' involvement in Vietnam was a justified and ethical undertaking. He firmly believed that the war was fought in order to free the Vietnamese from Communist oppression. He had understood the tragedy of Communist rule in China (note-having served there for 8 years) and believed the freedom for which the Vietnamese people longed could be won by working with them."

After one tour of duty and a short time back in the States he returned and according to a Supply Captain in 1st Engineer Battalion

"Two Marines asked Father what was going on in the USA. Father Vince explained that he had recently returned from a Stateside leave and that there was opposition to the war in the United States, even among priests and religious in the Church. They (at home) asked him how he could support the war.

He told them, and he told us, that the opponents simply didn't understand what was going on in Viet Nam; that they (the opponents) were being misled. Father assured the Marines that what they were doing was right and justified and that they could be proud of their service.

I still take comfort in Father's defense of our efforts in Viet Nam. The Church became more or less a "hostile environment" for the veterans of that war and, although I knew we were right, that Navy chaplain put a confirming stamp of approval on our war effort that affects me in a positive way to this very day.'

Father Vince had several chapels dedicated in his honor, a painting, a statue, a naval vessel was commissioned in his name plus another statue in Italy where his father's family originated. He was loved and respected as not many men are and he was truly heroic.

From the book:

"A stranger walked into chapel last night, prayed devoutly for a while, then left. We asked him who he was and where he was from. He told us, then mentioned that he had been a teacher in the local high school during 1959 and 1960 and had known Father Capodanno who was here at that time. Then he went on to say that he had not been to church for several years, but after reading an article in the Catholic newspaper about Father's death in Vietnam he decided it was time for him to get back to what the 'old' Church used to call his duties.....A missioner doesn't stop working even after he dies, does he?"

Fr. Vince was a Maryknoll Missionary priest before military duty.

God bless.....

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