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Sainthood for Vietnam War chaplain?

Since his death on the battlefield on Sept. 4, 1967, many Marines who knew Rev. Vincent Capodanno have called their chaplain a saint and have offered testimonies to his bravery, compassion and genuine holiness. Nearly four decades later, after the Catholic Church has authorized the Archdiocese for the Military Services to proceed with Capodanno’s Cause for Canonization, an active campaign is underway to have the Maryknoll priest named a saint.

As part of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, during Operation Swift, Rev. Capodanno was killed while consoling a dying corpsman. Already wounded, he refused to leave the battlefield, saying he had “work to do” comforting dying soldiers. As he went to save a soldier, he was shot 27 times in the back and face, and his hand was nearly severed. He died from his wounds.

Capodanno was a post – humous recipient of the Medal of Honor. In his memory, chapels, a boulevard, military buildings, a scholarship fund and a frigate have been named for him. His story was told in the 2003 book by Daniel Mode, The Grunt Padre.

Tons of unexploded ordnance removed from Vietnam

The Britain-based Mines Advisory Group (MAG) recently announced that since it began humanitarian mine action in Vietnam in 1999, more than 100,000 landmines and items of unexploded ordnance have been removed from two prov inces straddling the former demilitarized zone. At the end of the war, Vietnamese officials estimat – ed that between 350,000 and 700,000 tons of unexploded ordnance still remained scattered across the country.

Old U.S. allies still hiding in Laos

They call themselves America’s forgotten soldiers. Unable to return to civilized Laos, they remain trapped, living in the jungle for safety. During the Vietnam War, the CIA employed thousands of Hmong men to fight the Communists as jungle warriors. The Laotian Communist government still considers them the enemy, and the jungle is home to these veterans and their families.

According to a report in The New York Times, the Hmong are isolated, hungry and sometimes even hunted. They say they are always on the run from the Laotians who hunt and kill them, and they move their camps every few weeks to avoid attacks. Since they are so far away from any rice paddies or hamlets, at night, armed with their AK-47s, they travel to farmers to get food and supplies. The uniforms and guns they use for protection were acquired from Laotian troops who fled a firefight in 1999.

The Hmong fighters have gotten some positive attention in recent years as human rights groups have issued reports condemning the Laotian government for attacking those who worked with the Americans. Many Hmong believe that the United States is responsible and should help them. “We want America to give us a place to live,” said veteran Va Chang, 60. “If the Americans don’t want to do that,” he said, “they should drop a big bomb on us and end our misery.”

Since 1975, when the Communists took over Laos, approximately 250,000 Laotian refugees have immigrated to the United States, including more than 115,000 Hmong.

Vietnam veteran PTSD cases on rise since 9/11

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the start of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has seen a 59 percent increase in the number of Vietnam veterans who seek counseling for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) at its mental health centers, according to a VA report. The number increased from some 123,800 veterans in 2001 to more than 196,800 in 2006, VA officials report. Veteran center psychologists say Vietnam veterans are challenged on two fronts: the war on terror, and retirement. Many Vietnam veterans they’re treating kept their PTSD issues in check as they worked full-time jobs and raised families. But any number of triggers, ranging from the ongoing conflicts to personal problems such as divorce or seeing their children move out of the house, can bring back PTSD. Counselors re commend that veterans avoid watching too much television news about Iraq and Afghanistan.

Honoring a soldier’s best friend

The Vietnam Dog Handler Association estimates that dogs saved 10,000 soldiers’ lives during the Vietnam War, by alerting handlers to tripwires blowing in the breeze or to the otherwise un – detectable scent of buried explosives. Some of the canines worked as scout dogs, alerting handlers to foreign scents and sniffing out land mines, snipers, enemy sentries and patrol camps; others worked as sentry dogs to guard and protect bases, airfields, ammunition dumps and fuel dumps. It is believed that the dogs lessened the chance of an ambush while on combat patrol and also lifted soldier morale. Veterans have been lobbying for a national monument that recognizes the nation’s canine war heroes. Now, legislation included in the House 2008 defense authorization bill would establish such a national memorial at Fort Belvoir in Virginia. After meeting a war dog handler at a Memorial Day event, Rep. Walter B. Jones (RN.C.) agreed to sponsor the bill for the national monument. Many war dog handlers have been pushing for a tribute to the dogs they had to leave behind when they returned to the United States after World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

Agent Orange reported used on Guam

Retired U.S. government workers and military service members say that during the Vietnam War they handled Agent Orange on Guam and sprayed the cancer-causing herbicide around the island’s U.S. Air Force base, according to a Marianas Variety newspaper report. The former employees and service members say that they handled Agent Orange at Andersen Air Force Base in the mid-1960s, when U.S. B-52 bombers were dropping the herbicide on North Vietnamese jungles. They also say that Agent Orange was sprayed around the base to kill vegetation.

The workers presented their testimony in support of Guam congressional delegate Madeleine Bordallo’s effort to offer an amendment to federal legislation to provide compensation for those who may have been affected by Agent Orange. A federal law only covers personnel who were exposed to Agent Orange in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.


Originally published in the April 2008 issue of Vietnam Magazine. To subscribe, click here.