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Uday Singh remembered at US gurdwara ceremony

Several hundred Sikhs in Chicago gathered to pay tributes to India-born US Army sergeant Uday Singh, 21, who died fighting in Iraq.

india Updated: Jan 23, 2004 14:28 IST

Several hundred Sikhs here gathered to pay tributes to India-born US Army sergeant Uday Singh who died fighting in Iraq. The ceremony was held at the Sikh Religious Society in Palatine.

"Even as we mourn, we are honoured that one of our own could serve this country so bravely," said Sukhchain Singh, administrator of the Society.

The 21-year-old Uday Singh died on December 1 during an attack on his patrol in Habbaniyah, west of Baghdad. He was the first India-born serviceman to die in combat in Iraq.

The Sikh community filled the Palatine gurdwara to express their support for Singh's grieving family and to share their memories of him. Political leaders, including Lt. Governor Pat Quinn of Chicago, and military representatives also attended.

Singh was cremated and some of his ashes were mingled with rivers in India's Punjab region. The rest were buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. He has been honoured with two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and citizenship.

Singh trained as an armour crewman and served as a gunner. "My son made the ultimate sacrifice; he did what he had to do for his adopted country," said Manjit Kaur, Singh's mother.

"I thank the army for its efforts. Sikhs are all a community of warriors."

Singh came from a tradition of military service, Kaur said. His grandfather was a brigadier general in the Indian Army, and his great grandfather served with the British Army in Iraq during World War I.

Uday Singh was born in Jaipur, India, and had lived on many military bases. His father, Lt. Col. Preet Mahinder Singh, served in the Indian Army. The family moved to the US in the late 1990s. When his parents returned to India to be closer to aging relatives, Singh stayed in the Lake Forest area of Chicago with his uncle and aunt.

Under current US military regulations, Sikhs cannot wear their turbans while in uniform, and Singh removed his turban and cut his hair.

The memorial service had two parts -- a military portion and a religious portion. The military portion was led by Brig. Gen. Steve Best and included a rifle salute, an honour guard playing a videotape of Singh's comrades in arms speaking at a memorial service held at Fort Riley, Kansas, where Singh trained.

Gurdwara member Mohinderjit Saini was pleased with the respect that Singh's fellow soldiers had for him. "It is very appreciated by the community as a whole," said Saini of Palatine. "It is like America opened her arms. Perhaps there will be more encouragement in (the Sikh community) to join the military."

The second part of the memorial service was filled with prayer and hymns in the Sikh tradition.