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Thursday, November 03, 2005

Pain, Compounded

For some Americans, the cost, the pain, the heartbreak, all of it, it will never end:

JACKSON, Miss. - Just as she was trying to rebuild her own life after Hurricane Katrina, Elaine Oneto was told by military officials that her soldier son lost his in Iraq.

1st Lt. Robert C. Oneto-Sikorski, 33, of Bay St. Louis was on a foot patrol Monday near al Haswah, an area west of Baghdad, when he was killed by a roadside bomb, military officials said.

"He was devoted to his children. He is so much more than any of us could say," Oneto said. "He was a wonderful man who loved everyone and his loss is going to devastate this whole community."

Oneoto-Sikorski was serving in Iraq with the 155th Brigade Combat Team with the mother of his children, Clare Ranger. The 155th, which is made up of about 3,500 Mississippi National Guard soldiers and others from more than a dozen states, is scheduled to begin returning in waves from Iraq by the end of the year.

While in Iraq, storm surge from the hurricane flooded both his mother"s home and his own. But in one of their last phone conversations, they looked to the future and talked about his homecoming.

"I told him, 'Please be careful, you just have two more months. You just have two more months,'" Oneto said.

The back-to-back tragedy has fueled anger for some in Oneto-Sikorski's family. Like other hurricane victims, the family has had a difficult time getting relief and his mother is still waiting for a trailer from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said his aunt, Eloise Kindja.

"What more does she have to give to the country?" Kindja asked. "She gave her only son."

But for Oneto, coping with the loss of her home has taken a backseat for now. Her grandchildren -- ages 6, 8 and 11 -- are staying with relatives near Memphis, Tenn., where they evacuated from the hurricane. She wants to make sure they remember their father.

"I'm going to do my best to make sure his kids never want for anything, and they remember him for the honorable and brave man that he was," she said.

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