Upstate New York reflects on war's cost

Chinki Sinha

Five years. Five servicemen killed. 

As the Mohawk Valley prepares to bury another fallen soldier Friday, many residents have spoken about their sense of loss. And as they mourn Army Cpl. John Sigsbee, some also have questioned whether the toll of the Iraq war is too high. 

“Each person that is lost, it reopens the wound and makes us wonder,” the Rev. John Hogan of St. John the Baptist Church in Rome said. “I think people are beginning to see this.” 

Sigsbee of Waterville died in Iraq last week. Friends, neighbors and strangers filled the streets Sunday in his hometown to pay their respects to the soldier as his body was returned home. 

Flags flew at half staff throughout the village. Residents carried small flags, waving them as the hearse passed, thanking the soldier for his sacrifice. 

Mohawk Valley residents are proud and patriotic, said John Zogby of Utica-based polling firm Zogby International. But opposition to the war has grown here, he said. 

“Without doubt, there is questioning,” he said. 

As of Wednesday, 3,931 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq during the war that began March 20, 2003. 

The Rev. Robert Wollaber of Morning Star United Methodist churches in Ilion and Frankfort said he has seen the opinion on the war change in the community. 

“Most people I talk to are in favor of pulling out,” he said. “It is time for us to leave. With the recent death, it is taking a toll.” 

Fallen servicemen

About 600 people are expected to attend Sigsbee's funeral at 10 a.m. Friday at Waterville Central School. Calling hours will be from 4 to 8 p.m. today at the school.

The 21-year-old Purple Heart recipient was killed along with two other soldiers during combat operations Wednesday, Jan. 16, in Balad, Iraq, according to Army reports.

Sigsbee had suffered numerous burns in 2006 after the tank he was in was heavily damaged by a roadside bomb, but he chose to return to Iraq as a member of the 101st Airborne Division 32nd Cavalry Unit. 

“John Sigsbee and his family represent the best our country has to offer,” Rep. Mike Arcuri, D-Utica, said in a statement. “It is a tragedy that the war in Iraq continues to take the lives of our most promising young men and women.” 

Arcuri said he often hears from area residents who want to bring the troops home.

Mohawk Valley residents first experienced the toll of the war in 2003, when Army Pvt. Gregory Huxley Jr. of Forestport was killed. Army Capt. George A. Wood, 33, of Marcy died later that year. 

Those deaths were followed by Army National Guard Sgt. Michael A. Uvanni, 27, of Rome in 2004, and Marine Sgt. Elisha Parker, 21, of Camden, in 2006. 

The Rev. Hogan recalled how his heart sank when he heard about Uvanni's death.

When he gave the homily at Uvanni's funeral, a lot of people were looking at him to help them make sense of the war, he said. 

“For days, you could feel the loss,” he said. “Michael Uvanni's death changed this community. A real life flesh and blood young man was killed.” 

Hogan recently decided to publicly state his opposition to the war, but he still is uncomfortable putting up a sign that says “Bring Our Troops Home Now” on the front lawn of the rectory. 

“It is still sitting in my office,” he said. “I support our troops. But there are a lot of mixed feelings.” 

Community support

The Rev. Douglas Cowburn of Waterville served during the Vietnam War in the 101st Airborne Division 32nd Cavalry Unit, decades before Sigsbee would join the same unit. 

Today, Cowburn, 56, plans to attend the calling hours to pay respect to the soldier. The minister at Southgate Ministries in Waterville said war is a terrible thing, but it is also necessary to protect America. 

“It takes brave men and women to fight for the country. Some give the ultimate sacrifice,” he said. “I support the war on terrorism.” 

New Hartford resident Danyse Fusco said she also supports the war and sends packages to members of the military serving in Iraq. 

“Nobody likes war,” she said. “I think the support is waning. People have put it on their backburner. I think it has been too easy for them. War is a necessity.” 

The Rev. Tenolian R. Bell of St. Paul's Baptist Church in Utica has been following the war closely ever since it started, he said. 

The war is wrong, he said. 

“I definitely support the troops but not the war,” he said. “Jesus' stand would be there's no good reason to take a life. It is against Christianity.” 

While opposition to the war has grown in urban areas such as Utica, Rome and their suburbs, support remains strong in rural areas, Zogby said. 

“Smaller, rural areas tend to be more conservative,” Zogby said. “I haven't zeroed in on Waterville specifically or Camden but clearly in rural areas support for the war is greater.” 

Rural areas also send disproportionate numbers of men and women into the army, Colgate University history professor Andy Rotter said. 

“The military appeals to many young people who see the military as a way upwards,” he said. “They see it as an opportunity.” 

In many cases, serving in the military also has been a long family tradition, Rotter said. 

Contributing: The Associated Press

Killed in action

Army Cpl. John P. Sigsbee, 21, of Waterville, is the fifth Mohawk Valley serviceman to be killed in the Iraq war. 

Marine Sgt. Elisha Parker, 21, of Camden, died May 4, 2006, by a roadside bomb in the Al Anbar province of Iraq. 

Army National Guard Sgt. Michael A. Uvanni, 27, of Rome, died Oct. 1, 2004, from sniper fire in Samarra, Iraq. 

Army Capt. George A. Wood, 33, of Marcy, died Nov. 20, 2003, when his tank rolled over an explosive. 

Army Pvt. Gregory Huxley Jr., 19, of Forestport, died April 6, 2003, when an Iraqi rocket-propelled grenade hit his squad’s personnel carrier.