NORFOLK, Va. (NNS) -- Commemorating 240 years of providing religious ministry and pastoral care to the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard, Navy chaplains, Chaplain Candidate Program Officers and enlisted religious program specialists, gathered in Norfolk, Va. for a night of celebration and remembrance, Nov. 7.
Reflecting the night's theme, "Standing on the Shoulders of Giants," table tents featured photos and stories telling of the heroic deeds of chaplains who served in WWII and Vietnam and guest speakers spoke of the comrades with whom they served.
"We bring a sense of comfort when everything around [the service members] becomes uncomfortable - when it's painful and even heart wrenching," said Rear Adm. Margaret Kibben, chief of chaplains and the evening's guest of honor. "Throughout our history, there are countless stories of heroism and life-changing ministry interwoven into the fabric of our Chaplain Corps."
Kibben spoke specifically of two chaplains that provided support "where it matters, when it matters and with what matters." One of the chaplains she spoke of was Lt. Vincent Capodanno, the "Grunt Padre" of the Vietnam War.
Kibben said Cpl. Raymond Harton, one of the last Marines to see Capodanno alive, recently approached her office to share the story of the day Capodanno died when their unit was being overrun by Northern Vietnamese forces.
"'I said a Hail Mary and I closed my eyes; it wasn't long before someone touched me on my bad arm and shoulder and I opened my eyes and it was him," said Harton, as read by Kibben in her speech. "When Chaplain Capodanno spoke, there was no war, everything was like a dream, and there was no more pain in my arm, no fear in my mind."
Capodanno then got down on one knee to bless Harton and told him to stay calm and that God was with them.
"It was a feeling that I wish I could put in a bottle and save and show it on a television screen," read Kibben.
Capodanno was killed later that day while assisting a wounded corpsman yards away from enemy machine gun fire.
Kibben and other chaplains shared more acts of selfless service like those of Capodanno, remembering Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen that they helped. Capt. Donald Troast recalled his mission with the first group of Marines to enter Afghanistan.
"Above all, I remember being there for the Marines even when they only needed someone to talk to," said Troast. "I'm only glad that I was able to counsel them even in the worst of situations."
While the focus of the night was largely on past sacrifices, Kibben told those in attendance to look toward the future and ask themselves if they could, in fact, go where it matters, when it matters, with what matters.
"As you think about the people you serve today and their faces come to your mind and their names flash through your thoughts, I thank each one of you for responding to the call to serve as a Navy chaplain," said Kibben. "Each of you has heard this calling to this vocation in each of our own ways, a calling distinct from the path everyone else has taken."
Since its establishment in 1775 when the Continental Congress agreed that divine services should be performed twice a day on board ships and a sermon preached on Sundays, the Navy Chaplain Corps has grown to over 1,000 chaplains representing more than 100 faith groups. Chaplains and religious program specialists are embedded in and support commands at sea and ashore across the Sea Services.
Learn more about the Navy Chaplain Corps: