After Capt. Dale Goetz was killed in Afghanistan last week, multiple news reports focused on the fact that he was the first Army chaplain to die in action since the Vietnam War. That’s how the military described it.
Except it’s not a fact. At least not if you consider the unusual circumstances of the Rev. Tim Vakoc. The Catholic priest deployed to Iraq with troops from Fort Lewis, suffered brain damage and other injuries in a May 2004 roadside bombing, and finally succumbed at home in Minnesota in June 2009.
Vakoc, known as Father Tim, had celebrated Mass with soldiers in the field and was returning to the American base near Mosul, in northern Iraq, when his convoy was attacked on that day more than six years ago.
This certainly does not minimize the sacrifice of Chaplain Goetz, who was serving with the 4th Infantry Division out of Fort Carson, Colo, when he died last Monday. (He, too, was killed by an improvised explosive.)
It only reinforces the risks that many people of faith have been willing to run in Iraq and Afghanistan. And hopefully it reminds us that a long, slow demise back home still counts as a casualty of war. Or at least it should.