Medal of Honor Chaplains

The Medal of Honor is the oldest continuously issued combat decoration of the United States armed forces. It’s recipient "distinguishes himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty." Since its inception during the Civil War, it has been awarded 3,522 times; five of those medals have been awarded to Catholic priests/chaplains. Two of those priests are designated as Servants of God as well: Fr. Emil Kapaun and Father Vincent Capodanno. [Servant of God is title is given to a candidate for sainthood whose cause is still under investigation, prior to beatification]. 

Fr. Emil Kapaun [Servant of God] was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Korean conflict.  While attending men on the battlefield, he was taken prisoner and endured a 60-mile march to a prison camp.  While at the camp, Fr. Kapaun ignored his own wounds while tending to others.  He died of complications from his injuries in 1951.

Father Vincent R. Capoidanno who was affectionally known as “the grunt padre” for always being with his troops -- especially on the battlefield.  In September 1967 he was with a Marine force of 500 in a battle against 2,500 North Vietnamese.  Too many times to count, he crisscrossed the battlefield giving first aid and offer last rites.  After having his left arm shredded by a mortar and refusing to leave the battlefield, he gave last rites to a wounded Marine and then covered his body with his own.  Fr. Capoidanno was killed.  He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. He is recognized as a Servant of God.

Also awarded the Medal of Honor, Father Joseph O’Callahan was a Navy Chaplain aboard the USS Franklin operating near Japan in March 1945.  A Japanese pilot struck the ship with two bombs, instantly killing over one thousand men.  For the next three days Fr. O’Callahan helped rescue injured and trapped sailors, worked as a fire fighter, and performed last rites.  Father continued his Naval career retiring in 1953 as a Captain.

The fourth priest- to receive the Medal of Honor is Father Charles Watters. He was on his second Vietnam tour when his unit attacked hill 875 in Vietnam.  It was a fierce battle, and Fr. Watters went on to the battlefield retrieving the wounded and offering last rites. He was killed on 19 Nov 67 when a bomb struck the battlefield.

Fr. Angelo Liteky was the fifth priest awarded the Medal of Honor winner. While serving in Vietnam, his unit came under heavy fire. Over the next 24 hours he shielded soldiers with his own body, moved along the battlefield offering first aid, helping the wounded to the landing zone and helped put the wounded on the rescue helicopters.  He even helped direct the helicopter pilots to their landing space. Fr. Liteky became a peace activist after his wartime service.  He left the priesthood, married, and was twice convicted of federal offences for throwing blood on military buildings.  He is the only person to have ever returned a Medal of Honor.

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