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By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Cameron Edy
On Sept. 4th, 1967, Father Vincent Capodanno, a Navy Lt. and chaplain, was dying. After an extension request to the jungles of Vietnam, the catholic priest, attached to the 5th Marine Regiment’s 3rd Battalion, was caught in a firefight.
He embraced the chaos – running headfirst into gunfire and exploding mortar rounds, shredding his legs and part of his hand as he administered first aid and the sacrament of last rites to several wounded and dead Marines. He continued on, and the last Marine he aided later recalled his words: “Stay quiet Marine. You will be ok. Someone will be here to help you soon. God is with us all this day.”
Following these words, the “Grunt Padre” went to tend an injured Navy Hospital Corpsman, where he was gunned down while shielding the medic from assault. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his sacrifice.
Capodanno, a New York native, was born to an immigrant father and an Italian-American mother. His father was a native of Gaeta – a short drive from the headquarters of U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa (NAVEUR-NAVAF), and the primary home of the Blue Ridge-class command and control ship, USS Mount Whitney (LCC 20) – U.S. Sixth Fleet’s flagship. On Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022, fifty-five years after Capodanno’s final sacrifice, leadership from Mount Whitney, NAVEUR-NAVAF’s Navy band, Cristian Leccese, Gaeta’s mayor, Archbishop Luigi Vari, and members of the Association of Vincent Capodanno came together to commemorate his sacrifice, and the foundational role he played in U.S. and Italian history.
“As the commanding officer of the Mount Whitney, I am honored to commemorate Father Capodanno with the help of the city hall,” said Capt. Dan Prochazka, USS Mount Whitney commanding officer. “Mount Whitney has been very busy this year as part of NATO’s security and stability efforts… Though we have been gone, we carried on the legacy of Father Capodanno by connecting with the people in our community which we serve.”
The crew of Mount Whitney considers Gaeta home, opening up the ship to members of the city and community while in-port, and relying on their families to build relationships with Gaeta’s Italian residents while the ship is at-sea.
“This is our home, the home of Mount Whitney,” said Prochazka. “We are committed to being contributing members of our community, just like Father Capodanno faithfully committed himself to his Marines and Sailors.”
The event saw speeches by several attendees, a hand salute by a Mount Whitney military contingent, and a rendition of Taps played by the NAVEUR-NAVAF band. In addition, during a recitation of his Medal of Honor citation, Prochazka and Leccese laid a wreath on Capodanno’s memorial site while Archbishop Vari blessed the procession. This was followed by a benediction from the Mount Whitney chaplain, Lt. Cmdr. Dru Nelson.
“Lt. Capodanno’s actions emulate and remind us of the timeless words spoken so many years ago,” said Nelson. “They teach us that there is no greater love than that which is sacrificial: that which causes a man to be willing to lay down his own life for the life of a friend.”
Mount Whitney is the U.S. Sixth Fleet flagship, homeported in Gaeta, Italy, and operates with a combined crew of U.S. Sailors and Military Sealift Command civil service mariners.