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US general for Uday last rites

Chandigarh, Dec. 9: Uday Singh, the first US soldier of Indian origin to die in President George W. Bush’s war in Iraq, will be cremated here on Thursday according to Indian rites.

A “funeral service” will be attended by an American contingent led by Lt Gen. James Campbell of the US Army. A red alert has been sounded here for the general’s visit.

“The general will be present only during the ceremony at the residence, where he will speak to Uday’s parents, present them his medals and make some remarks,” a family member said. Campbell will not attend the cremation.

“The general will be here only for a little while. He will arrive with the US defence attaché in New Delhi, Col. Sboto, shortly after Uday’s body is flown into the city and leave immediately after the ceremony is over,” said US embassy media adviser Aarti Singh, who is here to assist the family with preparations for the funeral. The ceremony will begin at 10.30 in the morning.

“Normally, in the US, there is a casket team, a firing party and a bugler. An escort platoon and a military band are also provided in certain cases. Since his funeral is taking place in India, it would not be possible for the US Army to strictly abide by regulations,” she said, confirming that the funeral would be an Indian affair.

Casualty assistance officer Steven Stoiber will represent the US Army at Uday’s cremation. The 21-year-old gunner died in an ambush on his patrol near Habbaniyah in western Iraq on December 1.

Uday’s body has been embalmed, robed in his uniform with all his medals after an autopsy in Dover, Maryland. His ashes will be later taken to the US and buried at the Arlington cemetery near Washington DC.

A green card holder, Uday was on the verge of receiving US citizenship earlier than anticipated for joining the US Army. The young immigrant has been posthumously promoted as sergeant.

The atmosphere in Uday’s house at Sector 18 here remains sombre even as relatives have started arriving for the last rites. The family is still struggling to come to terms with the tragedy.

“Uday used to say he was in the best army of the world with the best tanks and other equipment and nothing could happen to him,” said mother Manjeet, tears welling up in her eyes.

Uday’s father Lt Col. (retd) Preet Mohinder Singh is hanging by the words of his son’s last e-mail to him. “Hey everybody, I am in Kuwait right now, just waiting till I head on to Iraq… you all have fun and take care while I go save the whole world… bye, Uday. PS: Pray for me,” he had written.

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