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Report on 4000th vigil (Mar 24, 2008)


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And now its 4001!

As minutes ticked away toward midnight and the Easter observance was coming to an end, MSNBC began announcing that another four U.S. soldiers had been killed in Iraq. On the very day that Christians remember the promise of hope and the triumph of life in the face of death, the war had claimed its 4000th U.S. soldier.  We knew it was about to happen, but on Easter? 

As promised in advance, after sending out the notices and releases in the very early morning hours of Easter Monday, about 75 stood in quiet vigil that the Brandywine Peace Community during the peak of center city rush-hour in front of Philadelphia City Hall.  A large banner reading: "4000 U.S. War Dead in Iraq" was held next to an even larger banner reading "War in Iraq - 5 YEARS Too MANY". 

There were other banners and signs.  A large coffin, draped with the U.S. and Iraqi flags, alongside pictures of Iraqi children and fallen U.S. soldiers, stood behind the vigilers.  Lou Ann Merkle (who would be pictured on the front page of the Phila. Inquirer) held her U.S. flag with the names U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq.  It was a powerful, solemn sight made even more solemn as the reading of Iraq war dead began.  After a section of Iraqi names was read, a section of
U.S. soldiers from Pennsylvania was read.  In between, a large bell was struck 5 times, once for each year of the war.

The silent time of vigil ended as Johanna Berrigan, from the House of Grace Catholic Worker. Johanna has been to Iraq repeatedly both before the war and since, and to other parts of the Gulf region, most recently as a witness to the Iraqi refugee catastrophe. Johanna reminded us of the estimates of 650,000 to a million Iraqis dead since the U.S. occupation began in April '03.

Next to speak was Celeste Zappala, Gold Star Mother for Peace a member of Military Families Speak Out, whose son, Sherwood R.Baker, was killed in April '04 while guarding the unit still searching for those "weapons of mass destruction" that became the lying war cry of George Bush.  Celeste has spoken at all but the first of the war toll vigils that Brandywine has organized in Philadelphia . At the 4000th vigil, she shared the poem (see below) she wrote in July of
2004, months after her son was killed and the total number U.S. deaths was 900. 

Tom Mullian, our "Six Strings Against the War" troubadour, then played his song "500 Boots", written for the observance of 500 U.S. deaths in Iraq, and concluded with his "Declare Peace" anthem. 

Today, March 25, icasualties.org reports that another U.S. soldier was killed.  The U.S. death toll in Iraq is now 4001. 

Today the number passed 4000
Just a number perhaps
a moment,
 at sometime today
 some young person's life
 swung in the balance,
 they drew their last breath
 and were gone.
And all the hopes
 that rode on them,
 all the prayers
 that followed them,
 from all the people
 who loved them
 are done.
 All the glorious days
 of a future
 they would have held,
 dreams they had in their heart,
 words they wanted to say
 and maybe children
 they hoped to have
 are gone.
 In the wind of the desert,
 in the smoke of explosion
 at the speed of a bullet.
 And we who mourn them
 will never know
 who they may have become,
 what light they may have given
 the World.
In their name
 and with all the love we possess
 let us work
 to stop this war.

With hope,
Celeste Zappala
Mother of Sgt Sherwood Baker, KIA 4/26/04