The Grunt Padre, by Father Daniel L. Mode, CMJ Marian, Oak Lawn, Ill., 2000, $22.95 hardcover, $15.95 paperback.
What began as a routine maneuver on September 4, 1967, in Quang Tin province culminated in the death of more than 60 U.S. Marines, including their 37-year-old chaplain. U.S. Navy Lieutenant Vincent Capodanno was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor after that action. In The Grunt Padre, Daniel Mode, a Roman Catholic priest, has done a creditable job in presenting Capodanno as a dedicated chaplain who became obsessed with serving “his Marines.” The Grunt Padre definitely has a hidden agenda, however–possibly to elevate Capodanno to the status of sainthood.
The ordinariness of Capodanno’s pre-Vietnam life is glossed over with spiritual whitewash. The contrasts in his life are alluded to but never explored. His six years as a missionary in Taiwan are passed over with generalizations. His first tour in Vietnam (in which he earned the Bronze Star with “V” device–not the “Navy” Bronze Star, as Mode incorrectly states) is passed over with only a few accolades.
Mode tries too hard to make Capodanno into the kind of Christlike figure fashioned by French Jesuit author Raoul Plus, but it just does not fit. The reader who can remain unburdened by the religious bias of the book can quite easily see the reality in Capodanno–a priest disillusioned with the Maryknoll Order, isolated, alone and misunderstood. If Capodanno’s life story were chronicled with a little more reality, it would do more honor to the man who chose to leave the Maryknolls and become a Naval chaplain, where he found his true calling. In that calling he gave his life for his flock, truly attaining the Christlike image that Mode tries so desperately to mold him into.
Through the selfless service of Chaplain Capadonno and countless others like him, many soldiers found a moment of sanity and peace in the midst of the brutality and senselessness of war. Capodanno was a selfless man, and I believe he would be saddened at the idea of sainthood’s being imposed on him. I am sure he would feel that it denigrated the sacrifice of other chaplains who also risked their lives for their flocks–men such as Chaplains Aloysius McGonigal, Connie Walker, Don Shea, Rees Ryder Stevens and many others.
Colonel James L. Hoke