Saturday, May 21, 2005

Major Timothy Vakoc: Father Tim

Follow-up on the tribute from President Bush yesterday; from last year in the WSJ: "Maj. H. Timothy Vakoc is a Catholic priest who was serving in Iraq when his Humvee was hit Sunday by a roadside bomb. Maj. Vakoc--Father Tim--... ['s] mere presence [and all] chaplains help remind soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines of the higher law that obtains even in the thick of war. To put it another way, the chaplain is the unarmed soldier whose job it is to serve those who serve. In a story on chaplains in Iraq published by the National Catholic Register just before he was injured, Maj. Vakoc described this as "the ministry of intentional presence."

In pursuit of this calling, the major has become the first chaplain seriously wounded in Iraq. But he is part of a tradition of distinguished service much larger than himself, one that dates to a year before Independence, when the Continental Congress instituted a chaplain corps for the Army. The memorials at Arlington National Cemetery speak to the many chaplains who have given their lives on the battlefield. A number have even earned the Medal of Honor, including three in Vietnam.

In the age of Michael Moore, the phrase "for God and Country" may be greeted in some quarters with cynicism. But we take the measure of Father Tim and his fellow chaplains by their willingness to put their lives on the line for these words. Where others see a mass of troops, they see individuals with souls and troubles that need tending. As for the risks involved, Father Tim took the chaplains' view: 'The safest place for me to be is in the center of God's Will,' he explained to his sister during a previous deployment to Bosnia, 'and if that is in the line of fire, that is where I will be.'

The cliché has it that there are no atheists in foxholes, which has never been true. The more inspiring reality is that Americans such as Maj. Vakoc, knowing the odds, make those foxholes their ministry."

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