Semper Fi, Padre

The Mathew Caruso Story

Semper fi, Padre

"One of the most moving stories of the Korean War..." -- the Catholic Transcript

Surrounded and outnumbered by as many as 10-to-1, the men of the 1st Marine Division were battling their way out of the trap that the Communist Chinese had set for them at the Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War. And they were fighting not only the enemy but the elements, as the temperatures plunged as far as twenty to thirty degrees below zero during the night. Sometime after midnight on December 6, 1950, Sgt. Mathew Caruso, assigned as a chaplain's assistant, and Lt. (j.g.) Cornelius "Connie" Griffin, a Catholic chaplain, were in an ambulance as the padre read the last rites to a gravely wounded Marine. Suddenly a rapid burst of machine gun fire could be heard and bullets began penetrating the ambulance. Mathew shouted "Down! Father, Down!" and in all likelihood knowing from more than two months of intense combat that the padre would continue ministering to the fallen Marine Mathew threw the chaplain to the floor of the ambulance and shielded him with his body.

Sgt. Mathew Caruso was riddled with machine gun bullets and killed. Father Griffin was wounded in the jaw and shoulder but survived. The following morning the Marines broke through to Koto-ri.

Six days later, in Rocky Hill, Connecticut, Betty Caruso, now Mathew's widow, gave birth to a son, Daniel. When Daniel was 13 and a half months old, a ceremony was held at the Groton, Connecticut, submarine base in which Mathew's Silver Star was presented to little Danny Caruso as his mother held him in her arms and Mathew's father, Michael Caruso Sr., looked on.

Two years later, after recovering sufficiently from his wounds, Chaplain Griffin oversaw the construction of the Mathew Caruso Memorial Chapel at Camp Pendleton, where Marines still worship today before being deployed to the world's many danger zones.

Meanwhile, Mathew's body was buried in a mass grave in the frozen earth at Koto-ri, in North Korea, along with the remains of some 60 other Marines and British commandos. In 1955, as part of an exchange of remains between North Korea and China on the one side, and South Korea and the United Nations on the other, Mathew's remains were repatriated. Mathew's younger brother John, who enlisted in the Marines after Mathew's death, was stationed at Camp Pendleton when he was given orders to accompany his brother's body by train from San Francisco to Hartford for a proper burial.

"Semper Fi, Padre" is the story not only of Mathew Caruso's act of heroism, which has been described in many books about the Korean War, but of the far reaching effect a death in combat -- any death in combat -- has on the lives of many people.

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