Sunday, June 21, 2009

Fr. Tim Vakoc

We received word today that CH (MAJ) H. Timothy Vakoc, wounded on 29MAY04 (the 12th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood), died last night in Minnesota. Having suffered severe trauma to his head (including the loss of his left eye), when the HMMWV (Humvee) he was riding in on the way back from celebrating Mass with troops was hit by an IED (improvised explosive device), he was nearly comatose for more than two years, before he began speaking again (a little) in October 2006.

We were told that he fell the day before yesterday, hitting his head. A hematoma developed, and he died last night.

I never met him, but in December 2005, when I was finally beginning to be willing to be willing to look into Army Chaplaincy (remember: I was 49 years old at the time, and I don't even like war *movies*), I found the website of the Archdiocese for the Military Services online. The very first thing I saw on the page was, "Please pray for Fr. Tim."

That was the first time I'd ever heard of the man, and at that point he'd been injured for more than 18 months, and was still almost comatose.

Given my skepticism about joining the Army at such an advanced age, the news about Fr. Vakoc probably ought to have sealed the deal against my signing up. But for some reason, it did not.

I suspect it has something to do with what my friends who go to a lot of AA and Al-Anon and other 12-Step meetings call "praying only for knowledge of God's will for us, and the power to carry that out." (It seemed like such a good idea when they described that kind of prayer to me, I decided I'd try it out, as well.)

If nothing else, learning about his experience at least enabled me to make an informed decision. And don't think I didn't think about Fr. Tim every time I climbed into a HMMWV or MRAP (mine resistant ambush protected vehicle) to convoy to someplace outside the wire!

It seems to me that he died from his war injuries, making him the only military Chaplain to have died from enemy action during the Global War on Terror.

May he rest in peace, and may his family and friends be consoled.

Blessings and peace to one and all,

Fr. Tim, SJ

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Mitch said...

I was terribly saddened to hear of Chaplain Vakoc's death. For those who were acquainted with him, or who had been following his recovery, his Caring Bridge page is still open for condolences.

admajoremdeigloriam said...

I too heard of Fr. Vakoc about the time that I was making my decision about becoming a chaplain assistant. I have not heard any official comment that he is the first chaplain to die of wounds sustained from the GWOT, I'm sure that we will all remember him as such whether they make it official or not.

May he rest in peace.

Ben Collins (Chaplain-Retired) said...

About Chaplain Tim Vakoc

I saw an article about Chaplain (CPT) Dale A. Goetz that stated that he was the first Chaplain to die in either Afghanistan OR Iraq.

So I was checking the internet to see what information remained out there about Chaplain Tim Vakoc. I think I've figured it out. Sad to say, technically, he died of a nursing home accident.

I hope we don't miss his sacrifice. The damage was done that would have killed him, and certainly "cheated" him of great ministry by the IED.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE. Remember it was Tim that said, "The safest place for me to be is in the center of God's will, and if that is in the line of fire, that is where I will be."

My family and I visited Tim at the Nursing Home in Minnesota in October of 2008. We had served together in Hanau, Germany; Fort Carson, Colorado; and Fort Lewis, Washington At Fort Carson, Tim was with another unit, but volunteered to go to the National Training Center for the battle weeks during my 3rd Brigade Combat Team's (4th ID) rotation. We accepted him in as a replacement and he provided amazing service making sure that every Catholic soldier in the Brigade had a chance to take communion during that battle phase. It was there that I taught him that Chaplains drive. He was driving when the IED, placed above the road attached to an over-pass exploded. He, the driver was, I believe, the only one wounded.

You can Google him and find lots of information.

From Wikipedia

Vakoc was the first U.S. military chaplain to die from wounds received in the Iraq War. He died on June 20, 2009, from wounds received in the Iraq War in 2004, when his Humvee was struck by an IED (improvised explosive device) as he was returning from celebrating Mass for soldiers. He was also the first documented U.S. Army chaplain seriously injured during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

From his Obituary

Rev. Tim Vakoc -Jun 20, 2009
Chaplain dies 5 years after being wounded in Iraq
The Rev. Tim Vakoc, a Minnesota priest who was gravely wounded by a roadside bomb in Iraq five years ago, has died, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis said Sunday. He was 49.

Vakoc, who was believed to be the first military chaplain wounded in Iraq, died at a nursing home in suburban New Hope on Saturday. The cause of death was not immediately released.

Vakoc was an Army chaplain on May 29, 2004, when the blast cost him an eye and severely damaged his brain as he was returning from celebrating Mass with troops near Mosul.

"A man of peace, he chose to endure the horror of war in order to bring the peace of Christ to America's fighting men and women," Archbishop John Nienstedt said in a statement. "He has been an inspiration to us all and we will miss him. We ask everyone to remember him in prayer."

The major was hospitalized for four months at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, and was transferred in a near coma to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Minneapolis in October 2004.

After many surgeries and infections, he slowly started to recognize friends and family, and began to communicate with squeezes of the hand or slight smiles. In the fall of 2006, he spoke for the first time in 2 1/2 years.

Vakoc, a Robbinsdale native, served as a parish priest before becoming an Army chaplain in 1996, and serving in Germany and Bosnia. He shipped out to Iraq shortly before his 44th birthday.

Just for the record - of a Chaplain who gave his all for our soldiers.

Deo Gloria,

Chaplain (retired) Ben Collins

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