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Rear Adm. Margaret Kibben, chaplain of the Marine Corps, speaks at the dedication of Capodanno Chapel, The Basic School’s new chapel in Lopez Hall, on Sept. 4, 2013, the 46th anniversary of its namesake’s death.

Photo by Mike DiCicco

New TBS chapel named for “Grunt Padre”

4 Sep 2013 | Mike DiCicco

The namesake of the new Capodanno Chapel at The Basic School is a name that Navy chaplains hear from their first day of training onward, Rear Adm. Margaret Kibben told 50 or so chaplains, Marines and civilians congregated in the little church.

Kibben, the chaplain of the Marine Corps, was the guest speaker at the dedication of the new chapel on Sept. 4, 2013, which was the 46th anniversary of the death of Father Vincent Capodanno.

“All of us understand that what is expected from us is what Chaplain Capodanno provided for his Marines,” she said.

Chaplain Christopher Earley, The Basic School’s chaplain, detailed the actions that earned Capodanno the Medal of Honor and cost him his life on Sept. 4, 1967, during an ambush of the 5th Marine Division by North Vietnamese forces in the Thang Binh District during Operation SWIFT.

Known by his men as “the Mud Chaplain” or “Grunt Padre,” Earley said, Capodanno lived, ate and slept under the same conditions as his men. “He literally would give his own gear if they were missing theirs,” he said, noting that Capodanno once gave away his gas mask in the midst of a gas attack.

When he and 500 men were ambushed by 2,500 of the enemy, he disregarded the intense firing and walked the battlefield, administering to the dead and dying.

After Capodanno was shot through his right hand that day, he refused medical evacuation, and he refused to be evacuated again after a mortar shredded his right arm, Earley said. Instead, he used his good arm to hold up the other as he continued to perform last rites on the dying and encourage the living. When he came across a wounded corpsman in the line of fire of a nearby enemy machine gun, Capodanno ran to help the young man and was gunned down.

Earley noted that during the Vietnam War, service members were sent home after their third purple heart. “With his third purple heart of the day, Father C. went home,” he said.

“There are expectations of chaplains to maintain this presence of courage, of certainty,” Kibben said, adding that, in his actions and sacrifice, Capodanno had embodied that courage, as well as the other “Corps values” of honor and commitment.

“May we, this congregation, represent the courage, the commitment and the honor that we celebrate today in the life and the death of Chaplain Vincent Capodanno,” Kibben said.

Capodanno Chapel, which can hold approximately 50 worshippers, is in TBS’ new Lopez Hall and replaces the school’s previous chapel in O’Bannon Hall, which is being torn down. It opened in July with the rest of the building and is the only space at TBS set aside solely for religious purposes, Early said, noting that the chapel is open to all faiths.

It is one of several Marine Corps chapels named after Capodanno, who is also well known outside the military.

“Not only is he a big deal in the Navy chaplaincy, but the Catholic Church is looking into making him a saint,” Earley said. 

— Writer: mdicicco@quanticosentryonline.com


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