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6 chaplains who became heroes — without ever carrying a weapon

What's not to like about chaplains, right? They hold good conversations, are generally nice, and most keep some extra hygiene products and pogey bait around for troops who wander by the chapel. Oh, they also perform religious services and counsel service members in need.


Some of them have distinguished themselves by going far beyond their earthly call of duty. Despite not being allowed to carry weapons, these six chaplains risked their lives to save others.

1. Chaplain Capodanno ignored his amputation and ran into machine gun fire to recover the wounded.

Photo: US Navy

Navy Reserve Lt. (Chaplain) Vincent R. Capodonna was in a company command post Sept. 4, 1967, in Vietnam when he learned a platoon was being overrun. He ran to the battle and began delivering last rites and treating the wounded, continuing even when a mortar round took off part of his right hand.

He refused medical treatment and tried to save a wounded corpsman under heavy machine gun fire, but was gunned down in the attempt. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

2. Chaplain Newman gave away his armor, assisted the wounded, and held religious services ahead of the front line.

In March of 1953, Lt. j.g. (Chaplain) Thomas A. Newman, Jr. was supporting series of assaults in Korea. He continuously exposed himself to enemy fire while assisting stretcher bearers. When he came across a Marine whose vest was damaged, Newman gave up his own and continued working on the front line. Throughout the mission, he was known for holding services ahead of the front lines. He received the Silver Star and the Bronze Star.

3. Chaplain Watters repeatedly walked into the enemy's field of fire to recover wounded soldiers.

Photo: US Army

Army Reserve Maj. (Chaplain) Charles J. Watters was moving with a company of the 173rd Airborne Brigade when they came under fire from a Vietnamese battalion. During the ensuing battle, he frequently left the outer perimeter to recover wounded soldiers, distribute food, water, and medical supplies, and administer last rites. On one trip to assist the wounded, he was injured and killed. He posthumously received the Medal of Honor.

4. Chaplain Kapaun interrupted an execution after staying with the American wounded despite facing certain capture.

Army Capt. (Chaplain) Emil Kapaun performs Mass in the field, Oct. 7, 1950. Photo: US Army Col. Raymond Skeehan

When a battalion of cavalry found themselves nearly surrounded and vastly outnumbered by attacking Chinese forces on Nov. 1 1950, they still managed to rebuff the first assault. But when they realized they couldn't possibly withstand another assault, they ordered the retreat of all able-bodied men.

Army Capt. (Chaplain) Emil J. Kapaun elected to stay with the wounded. The Chinese soon broke through the beleaguered defensive line and began fighting hand-to-hand through the camp. Kapaun found a wounded Chinese officer and convinced him to negotiate the safe surrender of American troops. After Kapaun was captured, he shoved a Chinese soldier preparing to execute an American, saving the American's life. Kapaun died in captivity and received the Medal of Honor for his actions.

5. Chaplain Liteky evacuated wounded, directed helicopters, and shielded soldiers in Vietnam.

Capt. (Chaplain) Charles Liteky receives his Medal of Honor from President Lyndon Johnson. Photo: White House Photograph Office

Capt. (Chaplain) Charles J. Liteky was accompanying a company in the 199th Infantry Brigade in Vietnam on Dec. 6, 1967 when the company found itself in a fight with an enemy battalion. Under heavy enemy fire, Liteky began crawling around the battlefield to recover the wounded. He personally carried over 20 men to the helicopters and directed medevac birds as they ferried wounded out. He received the Medal of Honor, but later renounced it.

6. Chaplain Holder searched enemy held territory for wounded and dead Americans.

Soldiers with the 19th Infantry Regiment in Nov. 1950 were desperately looking for soldiers lost during a heavy enemy assault in the Korean War. Volunteer patrols repeatedly pushed to the unit's former positions to find the wounded and killed Americans. Capt. (Chaplain) J. M. Holder joined many of the patrols and continued searching even while under heavy enemy fire, according to his Silver Star citation.

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