WASHINGTON, D.C. -The trailer has been released for a new film on the remarkable life and death of Vietnam War hero and U.S. Navy Chaplain Father Vincent R. Capodanno, M.M., Servant of God. The hour-long film, jointly underwritten by the Father Vincent Capodanno Guild and Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), is being produced by award-winning filmmaker James C. Kelty. Currently still in production under the working title, “Called and Chosen,” the documentary is scheduled for completion early next year. EWTN expects to premiere the film on its channel sometime in the spring.
The trailer can be viewed on the Father Capodanno website at www.capodannoguild.org/called-and-chosen.
Guild Chairman George Phillips, USMC (Ret), said “the primary purpose of the documentary is to acquaint a much larger audience with the Cause and life of this Servant of God.” Mr. Phillips said the Guild, in conjunction with EWTN, will make the film available to the public for purchase on DVD. He said proceeds will go “to secure funds to pay for expenses associated with the Cause for canonization of Father Capodanno.”
Father Capodanno, a Maryknoll missionary from Staten Island, died at the age of 38 on Sept. 4, 1967, suffering more than two dozen bullet wounds on a bloody hillside in Vietnam’s Quế Sơn Valley, where outnumbered U.S. Marines fought for their lives, pinned down under ambush by North Vietnamese regulars in “fixed bayonet combat.” By the time of the ambush, which came during a Marine offensive called “Operation Swift,” Father Capodanno, a Lieutenant, had been serving in the Navy Chaplain Corps for nearly two years, and he had gained a reputation for his exceptional pastoral concern for the Marine enlistees, or “grunts,” who did the heavy lifting of war.
In his book, The Grunt Padre (CMJ Marian), Father Daniel L. Mode paints a vivid scene of the Quế Sơn Valley bloodbath, quoting survivor accounts of Father Capodanno moving fearlessly around the battlefield, consoling and anointing those in agony and hauling the suffering to safety. Then-Private First Class Julio Rodriguez recalls the moment he first spotted the chaplain. “He was carrying a wounded Marine,” Mr. Rodriguez says. “After he brought him to the relative safety of our perimeter, he continued to go back and forth giving last rites to dying men and bringing in wounded Marines. He made many trips, telling us to ‘stay cool; don’t panic.’”
Another Marine survivor, Mr. Keith J. Rounseville, then a corporal, says Father Capodanno “was jumping over my (fox) hole, all the while exposing himself to enemy machine gun fire to try and give aid to a wounded Marine. Chaplain Capodanno looked and acted cool and calm, as if there wasn’t an enemy in sight. As he reached the wounded Marine, Chaplain Capodanno lay down beside him and gave him aid and verbal encouragement and telling him medical help was on the way.”
Mr. David Brooks, also a Marine corporal at the time of the firefight, says “the chaplain’s example of action gave courage to everyone who observed him and sparked others to action. Quite a few more people would have died if not for him.” Mr. Brooks recalls Father Capodanno suffered his first wound in the right shoulder from mortar shrapnel as he rushed to aid a dying squad leader. Holding his right arm, the priest reached the squad leader’s side, Mr. Brooks says, where the two joined in the Lord’s Prayer. Mr. Brooks says the chaplain stayed at the man’s side for about five minutes until he died.
For his uncommon valor, Father Capodanno in 1969 was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military decoration.
According to various accounts, even in death, Father Capodanno has continued to inspire courage and hope, drawing supplications from those in need. Some have claimed to experience extraordinary favors upon seeking the intercession of the hero chaplain. They include a Vietnamese nun whose recovery from advanced cancer came without apparent medical explanation.
In the ongoing film production, Mr. Kelty is tracing the Servant of God’s story through his boyhood on Staten Island, his years at the Maryknoll Seminary in upstate New York, his time as a missionary in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and his ultimate service and sacrifice as a Navy chaplain. Mr. Kelty has interviewed family members and many of those with whom Father Capodanno served during his remarkable ministry. “I want to capture through the memories of those who knew him the essence of Father Capodanno’s humanity, how he seemed to inhabit the world of the sacred and the world of the profane with equal poise, dignity and courage.”
Mr. Kelty is an accomplished Catholic filmmaker. Earlier this year, his 2015 film Kateri, about the life of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the 17th Century Algonquin “Lily of the Mohawks,” was named winner of the Capax Dei Foundation Award. Mr. Kelty accepted the award in Rome in June at the Mirabile Dictu International Catholic film festival, promoted by the Pontifical Council for Culture. Mr. Kelty’s other film credits include the 2013 television mini-series Serra: Ever Forward, Never Back about the life of 18th Century Franciscan missionary St. Junípero Serra y Ferrer, who was canonized by Pope Francis during his September 2015 visit to Washington, D.C.