By the end of 1966, the United States' "pacification" strategy had begun to show some positive results. Civic action programs in the villages had severely eroded both the Viet Cong's manpower base and its political influence over the south. The North Vietnamese responded by increasing the tempo of their army's incursions south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in an attempt to restore their influence over this region. The 5th Marine Regiment was positioned just south of the DMZ to counter NVA infiltration operations in the Que Son Basin.
On September 5, 1967, Lieutenant Capodanno was on patrol with the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines. He considered his ministry to be with the troops during their operations. The unit was engaged in Operation Swift, a search and destroy mission against several enemy regiments that had recently infiltrated the Que Son Valley. Earlier patrols had located some of the NVA units and Capodanno's battalion was airlifted in to find and destroy them.
The battalion then landed well short of the reported enemy location because of heavy enemy ground fire, and began walking toward the NVA position. Capodanno was with the command group of M Company as it ascended a small hill. As the 2nd Platoon moved in advance as a blocking force on the right flank, it was ambushed and took a number of casualties. Capodanno immediately left the relative safety of the Command Group to minister to the dead and dying of 2nd Platoon. Capodanno reached one platoon radioman who was isolated and pinned down by enemy fire. After the gunfire abated, Capodanno helped the radioman back to the command group perimeter.
Capodanno then proceeded to assist the wounded and dying within the perimeter. As he was administering the last rites to a dying Marine, tear gas was deployed against the Americans. Ignoring his own danger, Capodanno forced his own gas mask onto a Marine who had lost his mask while pulling back into the perimeter. As he moved toward another wounded Marine, a mortar shell exploded within 20 meters of the Chaplain. Despite his own grievous wounds, including shrapnel wounds to his arms and legs and loss of a portion of his hand, Capodanno continued toward the wounded man. The Chaplain stayed and prayed with the dying Marine.
When another Marine was caught in the enemy crossfire and severely wounded, Capodanno once again rushed through a barrage of gunfire to tend the wounded man. After bandaging his wounds and retrieving a rifle for yet another injured Marine, the Chaplain spied a Marine trying to help a badly wounded hospital corpsman outside of the perimeter. When heavy gunfire forced the Marine to seek cover, Capodanno left his position and attempted to save the wounded corpsmas by shielding him with his own body. But the North Vietnamese opened fire on the Chaplain and he was killed instantly, riddled with 27 bullets in his head, neck, and back.
- taken from Honor, Courage and Commitment: United States Naval Reserve Medal of Honor Recipients, Naval Historical Center