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Army Sgt. William M. Sigua, 21, Los Altos Hills; killed when unit is attacked with small-arms fire

February 25, 2007|Eric Bailey | Times Staff Writer

He grew up in Los Altos Hills, Calif., a wealthy Silicon Valley enclave that's home to high-tech hot shots and professional sports heroes, a leafy town where high school students typically point themselves toward prestigious colleges, not the military.

But Will Sigua had a restless energy not easily bottled in a classroom, so he answered a recruiter's call to join the Army. Calmly charismatic and handsome, he quickly climbed up the ranks of the venerable 82nd Airborne Division, becoming a sergeant far sooner than most.

On Jan. 31, Sgt. William M. Sigua, 21, was killed when his unit was attacked with small-arms fire in Bayji, Iraq, north of Baghdad. Piecing together fleeting details from his comrades, his family said it appears that he was manning a Humvee's gun turret when he was shot.

Fellow soldiers remembered the young paratrooper as someone who "had the ability to place everyone at ease with a word," Capt. Tim Peterman, company commander, wrote in an e-mail to Sigua's family. "In combat, Will always distinguished himself by displaying a level head and laid-back demeanor uncommon for someone his age."

Back home, friends and family recalled a guy who could be comic or compassionate depending on the situation, a workout fanatic who planned to go back to school to study kinesiology after his Army hitch ended later this year. "Will just had this ability to walk into a room and light it up," said Jennifer Herrera, a longtime friend.

His older brother, David, said Will was popular in high school and always had girlfriends, but never mocked or bullied teens with less social standing. "It didn't matter if someone wasn't one of the cool kids," his brother said. "Will treated everyone nicely."

He said their mother remembers that on his kindergarten soccer team, Will was the one boy who never got the candy basket presented to each week's top player. "My mom feels maybe those little experiences so young molded the compassion in him later on," he said.

In Iraq, Sigua found time to correspond with a fifth-grade class back home. Letters to friends and family related his hopes and disappointments. They also displayed his steadfast whimsy in the face of adversity.

"Christmas is here and it really doesn't seem like it," he wrote Herrera. "I walked outside and everyone had a Grinch-like attitude and that didn't help.... Later today we coordinated with the dog handlers to let us put on the bite suit and try to run away from his attack dog. That should make it seem more like Christmas."

Sigua was a baby when his family moved to Los Altos Hills. His father, Ben, who emigrated from the Philippines in his 20s, was an engineer; and his mother, Jackie, worked in technology support for the school district.

The family was solidly middle class, but had inherited a home from a great aunt in one of the Bay Area's wealthiest enclaves. Steve Young, the San Francisco 49ers star quarterback, lived barely a block away. Will went to elementary school with the grandchildren of David Packard, a co-founder and longtime executive officer of Hewlett-Packard Co. "We were straight-up middle class, but our friends were seriously, absolutely loaded," said David Sigua, 29.

He said his kid brother always managed to fit in, describing him as a relentlessly nice boy, though not immune to antics. Will once dared a tiny playmate from around the corner to crawl inside the family's jumbo mailbox and then closed the lid, his brother said.

He also didn't shy away from risk. In his early teens, Will and his friends fashioned a four-man go-kart, then pushed it to the top of the biggest hill in the area. On the way down they hit 35 mph, and their method of braking -- sliding tennis shoes on the pavement -- proved only marginally successful, his brother said. They skidded to a stop just inches from a brick wall.

By the end of high school, Will had grown into a strapping 6-footer. He wrestled in the middleweight ranks and played on the defensive line in football, once returning a fumble 54 yards for a touchdown.

But he fell in love with rugby, his brother said. Will wasn't above putting his face headfirst into the scrum with guys with gashed eyebrows and cauliflower ears.

It was at one of those games that his friend Jennifer Herrera's mother christened him "Will the Thrill." The nickname stuck.

In his senior year, Sigua was a prince on the homecoming court. Herrera was the homecoming queen. Forever after he would call her simply "Queen," and she dubbed him "King." Their letters back and forth began with the formal, "Your majesty."

As high school ended, his brother wondered where Will's life would lead him. He was a smart kid, but not overtly intellectual. "He wouldn't thrive at a desk," David Sigua said. "When he decided to join the military, it made sense. He needed that kind of brotherhood and competition and physical test."

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