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Army chaplain’s long goodbye

Post by Cheryl Tucker on June 25, 2009 at 8:13 pm with No Comments »
June 25, 2009 8:13 pm

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

Father Tim: Five years later, a casualty of war

Some who die in war die quickly. Others take longer.

Father Tim – the Rev. Henry Timothy Vakoc – took just over five years. He died Saturday in a Minnesota nursing home of injuries inflicted by a roadside bomb in Iraq on May 29, 2004 – becoming the first chaplain to die of combat-related injuries in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

Vakoc, an Army major and Catholic priest who ministered to Fort Lewis units serving in northern Iraq, was coming back from celebrating mass in the field near Mosul when a bomb ripped through his Humvee.

His brain injuries were so traumatic that he was categorized as being in a "vegetative state," but that was later upgraded to "minimally responsive state."

There are many like Father Tim out there, Americans who survived their war injuries but will never completely recover from them. Of the more than 31,350 U.S. service men and women who have been physically injured in the Iraq war, 20 percent sustained serious brain or spinal injuries that will require some measure of continued care. In earlier wars, many of them might not have lived. But modern medicine and advanced field care mean more are surviving to struggle with the challenges of severe injuries.

Many – like Vakoc – will never recover to the point that they will be able to live independently. "Disabled" is too mild a word to describe their condition. Some are so badly injured that, like Vakoc, they need round-the-clock professional care. Others are being tended by loved ones.

The price of war is high, and more than 4,300 Americans have paid with their lives in Iraq. Let’s not forget those who continue to shoulder the scars of war, and those like Father Tim who are among its most heart-breaking victims.

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