WINDSOR TERRACE — At dawn on Sept. 4, 1967, a North Vietnamese Army unit, about 2,500 strong, unleashed deadly gunfire and mortars on a single rifle company of U.S. Marines near the village of Dong Son.
Riding with a helicopter of reinforcements was Navy chaplain, Lt. Vincent Capodanno, 38, of Staten Island, N.Y. The Maryknoll priest, a former missionary in Taiwan, was on his second deployment to Vietnam.
As a chaplain, Father Capodanno traded the cassock and collar for olive green jungle fatigues and a steel helmet. He became known as the “Grunt Padre” and was famous for going with Marines into the fiercest firefights. Often, they saw him darting among the wounded, either pulling them to safety or giving last rites.
That’s what he was doing Sept. 4 when he fell to NVA machinegun fire. His battlefield sacrifice earned him the Medal of Honor posthumously. It also brought the lifelong devotion of surviving Marines and a cause for canonization to the sainthood.
Now, an award-winning documentary about the priest, “The Field Afar: The Life of Fr. Vincent Capodanno,” is set for an exclusive rebroadcast on NET TV, Nov. 10 and 11.
The film, written and produced by Tim Moriarty, is a great educational program, according to Alexandra Piña, director of programming and production for DeSales Media Group. DeSales is the parent company of NET TV and The Tablet.
“’The Field Afar’ tells a great story about the life and heroism of Father Capodanno. It should be a film that Catholic schools and universities encourage their students to watch,” Piña said. “I invite all the NET TV viewers to witness the power of faith through the lens of this local hero who lived his vocation with purpose and bravery.”
NET TV will air the documentary on Nov 10 at 11 a.m. with an encore at 4 p.m. and on Nov. 11 at 7:30 p.m. The airing times honor the 245th birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps, on Nov. 10, and Veterans Day on Nov. 11.
Piña said NET TV was one of the first Catholic networks to receive cable rights to broadcast the documentary. She praised the filmmaker for “the openness he brings to any project which drives him to produce with passion and integrity.”
“Tim understands great storytelling,” she said, “not to mention his vision on creative cinematography and the commitment to content that is ethically sound and makes a positive difference.”
Engaging the Culture
Moriarty, based out of Astoria, Queens, owns Castletown Media, a full-service production company specializing in documentaries.
The Seattle native earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in philosophy from Boston College and an MFA in acting from Louisiana State University. His acting credits include appearances in The Blacklist, House of Cards, Luke Cage, and, most recently, a recurring guest star role on NBC’s Manifest.
Before pursuing a career in the arts, Moriarty spent three years as a Jesuit seminarian. His Catholic faith and in-depth knowledge of the Church inform the work he seeks as a documentary filmmaker.
He is the executive producer on “The Chair,” an 80-plus-part series for DeSales Media about the history of the Catholic Church in America. His 10-part series, ‘The Heresies,’ is for the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN). He also has another series under development with the Knights of Columbus.
“Castletown Media began out of a desire to tell inspiring stories in a beautiful way,” Moriarty said. “The Catholic Church has been the world’s greatest patron of the arts. As we progress into the 21st century, it’s essential that the Church engage the culture through the medium of video content.”
Moriarty said he first learned about Father Capodanno while working on a show for DeSales Media, “Mysteries of the Church.”
“I was deeply inspired by the story,” he recalled. “In meeting members of his family on Staten Island, the seed for a longer documentary was planted.”
Moriarty made the film with support from DeSales Media, CatholicTV, fundraising events, and direct appeals to leaders in the Italian American community.
Moriarty said that, as a former seminarian, the recent scandals within the priesthood pained him but Father Capodanno’s story became the tonic he needed.
“In Father Capodanno, I saw a man who lived out his priesthood with courage and true selflessness,” Moriarty said. “In interviewing the men who served with him in Vietnam and called him ‘father,’ I was consoled at the impact that one good priest can have on so many lives.”
“I go out there to save their souls”
The film recounts Father Capodanno’s birth in 1929, the youngest of 10 children in an Italian family of devout Catholics on Staten Island. He entered the Maryknoll Missionary Seminary in Ossining, N.Y. and became ordained in 1958. A year later, he was on the mission field in the rugged mountains on the island nation of Taiwan.
After six years in the mountains, Father Capodanno became a Church school teacher in Hong Kong. A short time later, he learned about the Navy Chaplain Corps and discovered a new calling. His first deployment to Vietnam came in 1966.
“The Field Afar” shows vivid imagery in photos and films from Father Capodanno’s youth, seminary time, and the mission field. He is shown on patrol with Marines, sharing cigarettes, and St. Christopher medals.
Moriarty credited the Father Capodanno Guild, the organization promoting his cause for sainthood, and historians at the Marine Corps for providing images.
“Maryknoll was also very helpful in sharing with us the archival materials they had of Father Capodanno’s seminary days,” Moriarty said.
In the film, former Marines and sailors share memories in modern-day interviews. For example, once a Navy corpsman (a medic for the Marines), Leo Rosetta said the chaplain took his job very seriously.
“He was not a bubbly personality kind of guy,” Rosetta said in the film, “I mean, he was pretty direct. And boy, I mean to tell you, if we didn’t have those guys with clean battle dressings on, or being very inattentive, he’d let us know, in spades.”
“He said, ‘I go out there for the same reason you do,’ ” Rosetta recalled. “‘You go out there to save Marines’ lives. I go out there to save their souls.’ ”
Rosetta said that “when everything was cool he’d put his arm around you,” and ask, ‘How are you really doing?’ ”
The corpsman responded, “Well, thanks to you, I’m doing fine right now.”
One brief segment includes a voiceover from Father Capodanno.
“God has given us life that we should live it fully, live it completely, live it happily,” he says. “God chooses the minute to call us back.”
A Future Saint to Pray to
“The Field Afar” received a nomination in 2019 for a New York Regional Emmy award for best documentary. It also won best documentary at the 2018 Russo Brothers Film Forum and best documentary (audience choice) at the 2019 Monmouth Film Festival.
Another documentary about Father Capodanno, “Called and Chosen,” was made for EWTN with help from the Father Capodanno Guild.
“’Called and Chosen’ is a wonderful film. In telling the story, they used a combination of interviews and actors. ‘The Field Afar’ is very complimentary to ‘Called and Chosen,’” Moriarty said. “From the outset, we did not want to compete with that film, but in utilizing archival materials rather than actors, we wanted to emphasize a different dimension to the story.”
“I encourage people to watch both films,” he concluded. “In Father Capodanno, New York-area Catholics have a hero to be proud of and a future saint to pray to.”