By Lt. j. g. Keith Connor, USS Mount Whitney
The U.S. 6th Fleet flagship, USS Mount Whitney (LCC 20), together with the office of the mayor of Gaeta, held a memorial ceremony in honor of Lt. Vincent Capodanno, a U.S. Navy Chaplain, in Piazza di Capodanno, Gaeta, Italy, Sept. 4, 2019.
The ceremony was conducted on the 52nd anniversary of Capodanno's death, which occurred in 1967 in Vietnam while he was serving as chaplain for 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division.
While under fire, Capodanno attended to the wounded and dying, administering last rites and encouraging other Marines during the battle. Severely injured by a mortar round and while attempting to rescue a wounded corpsman, Capodanno was killed and posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
“His sacrifice is not forgotten, neither by the Department of the Navy nor by his family. We commemorate his exemplary actions today, which bring together Gaeta, the city in which he had family ties, and the U.S. Navy,” said Capt. Cassidy Norman, commanding officer of Mount Whitney. “Along with many other Italian-Americans, his courage and his service have reinforced the strong bonds between the United States and Italy.”
The mayor of Gaeta, Cosmo Mitrano, delivered remarks honoring Capodanno and his ties to the local community.
“Capodanno led an amazing life, which began with his service to the Catholic Church and continued with his service to his country," said Mitrano. "He is a true Italian-American hero and an honorary Gaetano, and we are so proud to be celebrating this day with Mount Whitney.”
The mayor also spoke about how Capodanno’s father lived in Gaeta prior to emigrating to the United States.
The Archbishop of Gaeta, Monsignor Luigi Vari, offered the opening prayer and spoke of his intention to name one of the chapels in town after Capodanno in the future. Earlier in the day, Vari celebrated a Catholic mass in conjunction with Navy chaplains and local priests aboard Mount Whitney in the ship’s Capodanno chapel.
Chaplains from the region, members of the Capodanno family in Italy, local Italian veterans associations, and other community groups were also in attendance. Cmdr. Michael Hall, the chaplain for the U.S. Naval Hospital Naples, spoke of his tour with the U.S. Coast Guard, where he served as the pastor of the Capodanno Chapel at Fort Wadsworth in Staten Island. Members of the Capodanno family were active members of the Catholic community in Staten Island, where Capodanno grew up and is buried.
“It is an honor to attend the memorial ceremony for Chaplain Capodanno, and as Marines we strive for excellence on and off the battlefield, and we greatly appreciate the opportunity to remember someone who gave his all to help his marines,” said GySgt. Allen Hancock, who attended the ceremony with other Marines stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Rome.
Mount Whitney, forward deployed to Gaeta, Italy operates with a combined crew of U.S. Sailors and Military Sealift Command civil service mariners in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe and Africa.
U.S. 6th Fleet, headquartered in Naples, Italy, conducts the full spectrum of joint and naval operations, often in concert with allied and interagency partners, in order to advance U.S. national interests, and promote security and stability in Europe and Africa.