As We Honor Veterans, Remembering Fr. Capodanno and ‘His Grunts’

capodannoI will not go into what happened later between me and that [enemy] gun [crew] – Cpl Ray Harton, USMC

Below is a bit of the recollection by former Marine Ray Harton, Mike Company, 3/5 (3d Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment), who was in the battle the day Fr. Capodanno was killed (emphasis mine);

Sometime late afternoon we heard scattered fire, we had stopped close to a small hill. Sgt. Peters came running up and told us 1st Platoon had been hit hard and we were going to help them. We ran some, walked some and approached the top of the hill and the carnage started. All I can remember is Sgt. Peters screaming, “Get that Gun!” and I was hit in the left arm that spun me to the ground, another shot shattered my rifle. I was screaming, along with other members of my squad, we were being shot at every move we made.3242-art

The machine gun was close, 15 to 25 yards away, in a thicket, part way down the far slope of the small hill or knoll I called it. This very hard for me. I can remember seeing the North Vietnamese troops moving and coming toward me, there were Marines lying all around me, and I was calling for help, while with every beat of my fast pumping heart, my life blood was spurting on the ground. I could hear someone holler “Corpsman!” but every time I would move, that gun would shoot at me, and the other Marines.

At a distance, I could see Doc Leal moving from Marine to Marine, and he was looking at me. I knew I was going to die, I was not able to defend myself, and the NVA were coming after me, that was my fear.

Through all the noise and hearing myself scream, someone touched me. I had rolled myself on my left side to put pressure on my left arm and elbow, and someone touched me, it was Fr. Vince. As I looked into his eyes, all things got silent. Not a sound could be heard. No screaming, nothing but the sound of his soft voice, and the look of compassion in his eyes. “Stay calm Marine, someone will be here to help, God is with all of us this day!”14016607_G

I could see Sgt. Peters laying on the ground, blood coming from his mouth, Corpsman Leal moving in my direction, but I was not scared any longer. I was at peace. Fr. Vince was bare headed, blood on his face and neck, his right hand was mangled with a bloody compress hastily attached. He cupped the back of my head in an attempt to raise me off my arm, when all of a sudden I heard a scream, “my leg, my leg!” and I was back in the war.

HN Armando "Doc" Leal, USN.
HN Armando “Doc” Leal, USN.

I glanced over and Corpsman Leal was sitting on the ground screaming about 25 feet from me. Fr. Vince blessed me with his good hand and leaped up and darted to Corpsman Leal. I had come to my senses and was ready to fight, the words “Get that gun!” were still ringing in my head. I made an attempt to move when that gun opened up once more, not at me, but had caught Fr. Vince and Corpsman Leal and ended their lives, a long burst killed my savior, and my friends. Fr. Vince was gone, that image remains foremost in my mind today. And the guilt of being the cause of this God-Like Soul’s death haunts me today. I got mad at God and mad at the enemy. I will not go into what happened later between me and that [enemy] gun [crew].