Queens Village soldier dies in firebombing in Baghdad

By Peter A. Sutters Jr.

Friends and family gathered at the Queens Village home of Nigerian-born Private 1st Class Francis C. Obaji, 21, Tuesday night to mourn the loss of the young man who was inspired to join the National Guard after witnessing the Sept. 11 attacks while on his way to school.”He wasn't going for vengeance. He wanted the world to be more secure, he felt the world should be free from tyranny,” said his father, Cyril Obaji. “He joined the military not to kill or to go to war, but that's what it came to.”Obaji was born in Nigeria and came to the United States in 1994 with his family to join their father, who arrived in 1979 to establish a better life for them. The family lived in Brooklyn up until Obaji graduated from high school, when they moved to Queens Village. Obaji then enrolled in the College of Staten Island to study biology in hopes of someday becoming a doctor, his father said. Obaji was a member of the Army National Guard 1st battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment, based in Manhattan which he joined up in 2002. He left for Iraq in September and was due to come home for leave over the Easter holiday. Only three weeks ago, Obaji was injured in a similar attack on an armored vehicle that killed others riding in it, according to his father. Cyril Obaji said he had hoped his son would be able to return home after the injury, but he was put back into the field. The family was notified by military officials early Tuesday morning of their son's death.”It was very devastating,” said Cyril. “When I saw the two officers, I knew.””He's always smiling,” said Obaji's 16-year-old brother, Stanley. “He's not someone who is supposed to die.” Growing up, Francis Obaji always said he wanted to be in the army and often called for information after seeing advertisements on television. “He loved the army,” said Stanley. “He has pictures of the Marines hanging on his wall.”Holding back tears, Stanley spoke of his new role in the family and reflected on wisdom that his older brother had imparted on him.”He made me realize that I had to stay in school and make my parents proud. I can never take his place, but I have to finish what he started,” said Stanley. “He joined the military to help the family.”Obaji's father said he joined the military as a way to help out his family but did not want make a career of it. Obaji's uncle, Alphonsus Obaji, said his nephew never questioned his duty despite reservations about the U.S. invasion of Iraq.”He didn't support the war,” said Alphonsus. “He thought it was unnecessary.” Cyril Obaji echoed those thoughts, saying he was against the war from day one, but knew his son had a responsibility.”My son is a hero, he should be remembered as a hero.”Obaji is survived by his father, Cyril, 58, his mother Violet, 49, three brothers 19, 16, and 6, and a 4-year-old sister. Funeral arrangements were incomplete as of Tuesday evening.Reach reporter Peter A. Sutters Jr. by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300 Ext 173.

More from Around New York