Qns. Village Iraq soldier remembered

By Peter A. Sutters Jr.

Pfc. Francis C. Obaji, 21, was killed after the vehicle he was traveling in was firebombed on the streets of Baghdad Jan. 17.”My son went to war not because he wanted to kill, he didn't have a choice,” said his father Cyril Obaji from the family's Queens Village home Monday. Reflecting on the unexpectedly large turnout in the recent elections that took place Sunday in Iraq, Cyril added, “his war wouldn't be in vain.”Hundreds turned out to pay their last respects to Francis last Thursday at St. Gabriel's Episcopal Church in Hollis, and family and friends made the trek to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia for a weekend burial with full military honors.”There was a very good turnout at both services,” said Father William Willard, who presided over parts of both ceremonies. Willard said many Queens politicians turned out to pay their respects. “It was a very dignified service with full military honors,” said Willard. He did note that he was disappointed over the lack of military personnel in attendance at either the funeral or burial services. “No one came from the military,” said Willard “No one spoke.”Sam Obaji, Francis' uncle who came from the family's homeland of Nigeria, said the services in Arlington gave the family a chance to reconnect because in Nigerian culture the extended family is important in times of crisis.”There is an old saying in Nigeria,” said Sam Obaji. “If it affects one,” he said while pinching himself, “it affects the others,” he said while pointing to the family that lingered at the house.Sam Obaji said the funeral director at the cemetery told him the attendance at the burial services was of the largest he had ever seen.He said his favorite nephew was the type of person who would always help others and that was a big part of why he joined the armed forces, serving with the National Guard's 69th infantry division out of Manhattan.”He was such a wonderful individual,” said Sam Obaji. “He always wanted to help others. We pray his death will not be in vain.”Sam Obaji said Francis' helping ways, coupled with what he witnessed in downtown Manhattan on the morning of the Sept. 11 attacks, were the major forces that led the student to leave his studies at Staten Island College to join the National Guard.”To see that building go down made a big mark on such a young guy,” said Sam Obaji.He said the family now prays for each solider who has lost his or her life in any conflict across the globe because they now realize the pain felt by each family.”We know how they feel and pray that God will give them courage,” said Sam Obaji. “Let there be peace so no family will feel this pain. Resolve by talking instead of by war.”Reach Reporter Peter A. Sutters Jr. by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300 Ext 173.

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