ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) – 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 2½ 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.

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