Fitting to revisit the story of the “Grunt Padre” — as Pope Francis makes his historic visit to the United States, this week.
The Rev. Vincent Capodanno was killed in combat while ministering to U.S. troops in Vietnam. The son of an Italian immigrant, Capodanno sought out a life in the priesthood about a decade before, and was ordained in 1957.
Retired Capt. George Phillips served with Father Capodanno in the Marine Corps and said “his holiness was evident to everyone who met him.”
A Navy lieutenant, he ministered not just on large bases, but under fire — a choice that ultimately cost him his life, the Washington Post reported. Capodanno was 38 when he died, while serving with a Marine Corps infantry battalion.
Phillips says their company was ambushed by the North Vietnamese Army, “their 900 vs. our 168” during a battle that lasted “hours and hours.”
Phillips says, in the middle of it all, Capodanno jumped in to help the severely wounded, refused medical attention and while protecting others, was riddled over 50 times with a machine gun.
“He exposed himself without thought, always worried about his Marines,” said Phillips.
Very few people are awarded the Medal of Honor, but for his actions on the 4th of September 1967, Capodanno was recognized for his exceptional service.
Just as the military has its process for recognizing the superior, so does the Catholic Church, have its process to recognize the holy, saintly individual.
Capodanno could someday become the first member of the U.S. military to become a saint. The process won’t be quick, it could take decades. The case to canonize Capodanno moved forward in 2006, when he was named a Servant of God.
Phillips says when his old friend becomes a saint, “he will be for all people….he was totally sympathetic to those in need, taking their burdens and helping to carry them … the essence of him was that he was a son of God, an inspiration both in life and in death.”