Spc. Francis C. Obaji, College of Staten Island

August 9, 2006 | Our Fallen Heroes

Born: May 5, 1983 in Owerri, Nigeria
Died: January 17, 2005 in Baghdad, Iraq

Specialist Francis Obaji emigrated from Nigeria to the USA in 1996. He graduated from Erasmus High School in Brooklyn where he excelled in both academics and on the track team. After graduating, he enteredthe College of Staten Island (CSI), majoring in Microbiology. Francis was intent on attending medical school and becoming a doctor.

The events of September 11, 2001, however, profoundly influenced Francis and redirected the course of his life.

On the morning of September 11th, Francis was on his way to class at CSI. He was waiting for the Staten Island Ferry in lower Manhattan when he witnessed the horror and devastation of the attack. His response was to join the military. He chose the US Army National Guard, and so found himself in NY’s 1-69th Infantry, the famed Fighting 69th. In that storied battalion, he joined other local soldiers deeply affected by the events of September 11, 2001.

Francis did not always agree with the politics of the war, but he was determined to do his duty for his adopted nation. Francis Obaji was unstoppable once his personal determination kicked in. He mobilized for deployment to Iraq with his fellow soldiers of the 69th in early 2004. After months of training in Texas and in the deserts of Southern California, the unit deployed to Iraq in October. Assigned to some of the worst areas in Baghdad, the unit took casualties early on, as they struggled to assert control over their sector.

In letters, phone calls and emails to friends back home, Specialist Obaji remained optimistic. He was due two weeks of R & R during the Easter season that spring, which he extolled to friends & family. A fact he joyfully reminded to friends and family. Such was the nature of this young soldier and scholar, quiet, positive, and determined. Friends from school and the Army all agree that these qualities were always resounding in him. Many also remark on his natural gifts as an artist, calling attention his brilliant illustrations. All agree he was extremely gifted.

On January 16, 2005, just three months into his year long tour in Baghdad, Specialist Obaji was riding in an Army humvee, on patrol in Baghdad. Due to circumstances not fully explained, his vehicle drove into a roadside ditch. Francis Obaji was seriously injured and was transported to the 86th Combat Surgical Hospital in Baghdad. He died the next day.

His funeral in Queens was attended by hundreds of mourners. His family, friends, fellow soldiers, school mates, as well as members of the community attended. He is buried, fittingly, in Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, the nation’s primary resting place for its heroes. Today he lies there in the company of such men as Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Douglas McArthur, Audie Murphy, Greg “Pappy” Boyington, and Virgil “Gus” Grissom, just to name a few. Men who would be certain to recognize the qualities of Specialist Francis C. Obaji and to claim him as one of their own.

To learn more about Specialist Francis C. Obaji, please visit: http://www.francisobaji.org/