November 11, 2019

Getting it Correct

In October of 2017, I wrote an article entitled “A Special Priest: Fr. Vincent Capodanno.” In order to understand what I am about to write, you need to read that article first.

I first learned of Fr. Capodanno while watching a documentary about his life on EWTN. Much of the documentary was based upon the information found in the book The Grunt Padre, written by Fr. Daniel L Mode. I was so impressed by Fr. Capodanno’s life that I quickly ordered the book and was inspired to write the article that I hope the reader has now read.

Almost two full years later, the editor of Catholic Journal received an email that read, “I would like to get in touch with Thomas Addis who wrote the article ‘A Special Priest: Fr. Vincent Capodanno.’ I was the radio operator that Mr. Addis wrote about in the article.” It was signed by a Steve Lovejoy and included his phone number. That email was forwarded to me. Intrigued, I called Mr. Lovejoy that same night.

I introduced myself when he answered his phone, and we began an enjoyable conversation. Naturally, I asked him why he wanted to talk with me, and he said that my article contained some information that was not correct or perhaps only partially true. This was not a criticism of me. He pointed out that the book I used for my information was the source of the problem.

Now it is important to understand that Mr. Lovejoy was not trying to diminish the character or the actions of Fr. Vincent on the day he was killed. In fact, Mr. Lovejoy credits Fr. Vincent for saving his life and certainly supports the cause for Fr. Vincent’s canonization. (More on this later.) But Mr. Lovejoy is one of five witnesses who wrote the recommendation for Fr. Vincent to receive the Medal of Honor. None of them were interviewed for The Grunt Padre, and he wants to make sure that whatever is written about Fr. Vincent is correct.

I totally understood his position and offered to write an article that would set the record straight. He was pleased with the offer and agreed to send me an email explaining the needed corrections. Those are found below.

To begin, Mr. Lovejoy was not the radio operator for Company D. Instead, he was with Company M. This fact may seem inconsequential, but to a Marine, it is important. 

Mr. Lovejoy explains the situation as it unfolded:

  • Company M never made it to Company D.
  • Less than a mile from Company D, Company M was ambushed by approximately 6500 NVA.
  • First and Second Platoons sought cover in bomb craters on a small knoll.
  • Third Platoon was cut off from First and Second Platoons.
  • Father Capodanno, hearing the gunfire, dashed across an open area (approximately 75 yards) from the safety of Third Platoon to get to Second Platoon.

Next, Mr. Lovejoy does not recall exactly what he said in the radio in the midst of the firefight, but he assures me that his message would have been much shorter with far less information. He suggests that it was probably something like “We are being overrun; send help.”

A third error in the book is that Fr. Vincent’s hand was partially severed while he was ministering to wounded soldiers. In reality, the hand was undoubtedly partially severed after he had died, (probably from hand grenades and/or mortar rounds), for none of the eyewitnesses in their statements mentioned a partially severed hand.

A fourth misconception was the reported 27 bullet wounds found on Fr. Vincent’s body. Actually, only 4-8 were from bullets. The rest were shrapnel wounds from hand grenades/mortar rounds. Mr. Lovejoy adds, “On his fatal dash to give aid, Father Capodanno never reached the one(s) he was going to. He was cut down before he got there.” 

Two other embellishments that have appeared in other accounts (but not in my article) are that Fr. Vincent was in the battle for hours. The truth is that he probably died within the first 30 minutes. But even if that is the case, it was a miracle that he survived that long, given that he was constantly exposing himself to enemy fire. In addition, the bullets that killed him were .30 caliber, not .50.

Mr. Lovejoy understands why some individuals may have been tempted to embellish details because they wanted to believe they were true. But he says, “What is the saddest result of this is that the story . . . of Father Capodanno’s courage did not need to be embellished. It can very well stand as a testament to courage under fire by simply the honest statements given by those who were there.” 

Fred Tancke, the only eye-witness to Fr. Vincent’s death, said it best: “[E]veryone else out there was doing his job, rifleman, machine gunner, corpsman, radioman, etc. We had to be there; the Father did not. He chose to rescue and attend to others and in so doing gave his life.”

As mentioned above, a number of people are working on the cause for Father Vincent’s canonization. If our readers would like to get involved in this worthy endeavor or make a donation, here is a link to the Father Capodanno Guild.

I want to thank Mr. Lovejoy for contacting me, and, of course, I want to thank him and all in our military who have given so much so that we can enjoy the freedoms we have. May God richly bless all of them. 

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Written by
Thomas Addis

THOMAS ADDIS is a retired high school teacher and published author, most recently authoring a children's book, A Gift of Light, which is available at Amazon. An M.A. graduate of Oakland University, he is Associate Editor of Catholic Journal. In his spare time, he enjoys reading and cycling.

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