Tim Vakoc

Last updated
Father (Chaplain)

Tim Vakoc
Birth nameHenry Timothy Vakoc
Nickname(s)Father Tim
Born(1960-01-08)January 8, 1960
Robbinsdale, Minnesota
DiedJune 20, 2009(2009-06-20) (aged 49)
New Hope, Minnesota
Buried 44°52′15″N93°13′11″W / 44.87083°N 93.21972°W / 44.87083; -93.21972
AllegianceFlag of the United States.svg  United States
Service/branchFlag of the United States Army.svg  United States Army
Years of service1996-2004
Rank US-O4 insignia.svg Major (Chaplain)
Unit44th Corps Support Battalion,
Task Force Olympia
Battles/wars Operation Iraqi Freedom
Awards Bronze Star
Purple Heart
Combat Action Badge

Henry Timothy Vakoc ("VAH-kitch"[ citation needed ]) (January 8, 1960 – June 20, 2009) was a Roman Catholic priest and a United States Army chaplain during the Iraq War, attaining the rank of major. [1] He was critically injured on May 29, 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. [2] He died on June 20, 2009.


Early years

Vakoc was born on January 8, 1960, in Robbinsdale, Minnesota. [3] He graduated in 1978 from Benilde-St. Margaret's School, Minneapolis. [4] He graduated from St. Cloud State University, St. Cloud, Minnesota [4] and was a member of Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity. He was also a member of the fraternity staff, visiting chapters in the midwestern and northeastern United States.

Seminary and priesthood

He attended Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity, at the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota. On May 30, 1992, he was ordained a Roman Catholic priest, for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. [5]

Vakoc's first assignment was as associate pastor at St. Charles Borromeo Church, in St. Anthony, Minn. (1992–1993). He later served as associate pastor of St. John Neumann Church, in Eagan, Minn. (1993–1996). He left that post to join the Army. [4]

Military service

Vakoc became an Army chaplain in 1996, receiving his commission as a lieutenant in the Army chaplain corps. [2] His first assignment was Garrison Catholic Priest in Heidelberg, Germany. He then was reassigned to Hanau, Germany, During that time he deployed to Bosnia. He was assigned to Fort Carson, Colo., where he served for three and a half years. He was then assigned as chaplain for the 44th Corps Support Battalion from Fort Lewis, Wash. The 44th provided logistical support to the Fort Lewis-based units in northern Iraq, including the Task Force Olympia headquarters and the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, the Army's first Stryker vehicle brigade. The 44th was sent to Iraq in November 2003. [4]

While in Iraq Vakoc endeavored to celebrate Mass for soldiers in the 296th Brigade Support Battalion – stationed in Mosul – no matter where they were located, in an area the size of Connecticut, sometimes for only two or three soldiers in remote outposts. [6] In a letter to his sister, Vakoc 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." [6]

Vakoc was injured on May 29, 2004 – the day before his twelfth anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood [5] – while returning from saying Mass for soldiers in the field in Iraq when his Humvee struck a roadside bomb (IED). He sustained a severe brain injury. He was treated at an Army field hospital in Baghdad and was then evacuated to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. On June 2, 2004, he was transported to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, D.C. [2] [4]


Vakoc received the Purple Heart in his room at Walter Reed Army Medical Center during a private ceremony limited to immediate family members, Army personnel, and then-U.S. Senator Norm Coleman, who presented the medal. [2] Due to the seriousness of Vakoc's injuries and his unstable condition, Coleman was able to expedite the granting of the award. [2]

After several months, he was transferred to the Minneapolis VA Medical Center, [7] where he lay in a coma for six months. In the late spring of 2005, he began to show signs of improvement. With the help of the Yellow Ribbon Fund, a special computer was donated so that he could communicate with others. On June 1, 2005, a flag – signed by Vakoc and his unit – was given to him. His first message to the visitors who presented the flag was "TIM 4F" (the military code for unfit for duty) and then "OK". [7]


Vakoc died on June 20, 2009, at a nursing home in New Hope, Minnesota. His body was interred in Fort Snelling National Cemetery, Minneapolis. [6] [8]

Awards and decorations

Vakoc was awarded the following medals: [9]


On June 1, 2007, Vakoc received the 2007 Distinguished Alumnus Award from his alma mater, the Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity. [10]

In spring 2011, the Father H. Timothy Vakoc Council 15269 received its charter from the Supreme Council of the Knights of Columbus. The council is located at Fort Carson, Colorado, and is one of more than 15,342 councils around the world and including 1.9 million members.

See also


  1. Lasker, John (November 6, 2009). "Priests in the Military: A Controversy?". (at "Take care of my men"). CatholicMil.org. Retrieved 2009-12-18.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Minnesota Army Chaplain Timothy Vakoc receives Purple Heart", CatholicMil.org (Catholics in the Military), July 5, 2004. Retrieved 2009-09-13.
  3. "Brave Catholic Army chaplain dies from injuries suffered in Iraq", Catholic News Agency, June 23, 2009. Retrieved 2009-09-13.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 "Humor and Guts: Stories abound about injured priest hero", CatholicMil.org (Catholics in the Military), June 20, 2004. Retrieved 2009-09-13.
  5. 1 2 Norby, Pat (28 May 1992). "Rev. Mr. Timothy Vakoc". The Catholic Bulletin. p. 16.
  6. 1 2 3 Drake, Tim, "Chaplain Dies After Being Wounded in Iraq" (including photo of Vakoc celebrating Mass in the field), NCRegister.com, June 22, 2009. Circle Media, Inc. (National Catholic Register). Retrieved 2009-09-13.
  7. 1 2 "Flag Presented to Fr. Vakoc", CatholicMil.org (Catholics in the Military), June 1, 2005 (posted June 6, 2007). Retrieved 2009-09-13.
  8. Department of Veterans Affairs Nationwide Gravesite Locator – Henry Timothy Vakoc
  9. "Chaplain Dies From Iraq War Injuries, Priest Embraced God's Will in Line of Fire", ZENIT.org, June 22, 2009 (posted on EWTNews, EWTN.com, June 23, 2009). ZENIT.org News Agency. Retrieved 2009-09-13.
  10. "Father Tim Vakoc dies; remembered as 'a man of peace'", CatholicMil.org (Catholics in the Military), June 24, 2009. Retrieved 2009-09-13.

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