Two separate local events were planned to mark the death of the 3,000th American soldier in Iraq: a Squirrel Hill vigil and an Oakland picket and march.
"It seems like, we turn around, we've lost another two or three people," laments Scilla Wahrhaftig, head of the state office of the American Friends Service Committee, which organized the vigil on the steps of Sixth Presbyterian Church at Forbes and Murray avenues. As of Dec. 29, 2,996 American troops had died in the Iraq War; each event was planned for the day after the 3,000th such war death.
Diane Santoriello of Penn Hills, whose son, 1st Lt. Neil Santoriello, was the 930th American soldier to die in Iraq, was set to speak at the 5:30 p.m. vigil. She has been collecting 3,000 Christmas bulbs, symbolizing the number of American war dead, to display alongside a list of their names posted on doors by Wahrhaftig.
A reading by poet Samuel Hazo had also been set. Then the group had planned to march briefly up Forbes -- one of more than 200 groups around the country scheduled to make similar demonstrations on that day, organized by the national office of the Quaker organization.
Just down Forbes in Oakland, Pittsburgh Organizing Group had planned its 45th picket of the neighborhood's military recruiting center for 6 p.m. on the day after the 3,000th war death as well.
"We want people to recognize the 3,000th death -- and recognize it's not just the 3,000th American soldier that has died," said POG's Ryan Williams of Bloomfield. Iraqi civilian deaths, estimated to be anywhere from 50,000 to 650,000, ought to be recognized as well, he said. The group had planned to march as well near the picket site.
POG's anti-war pickets have long targeted local military recruiting centers. Williams is not disturbed by Pentagon announcements in December that all four service branches had met or exceeded their most recent recruitment goals.
"I actually feel counter-recruitment is being really effective," Williams says. "Of course they're going to say they met their quota. But you've got to look at how they met their quota" -- by lowering entry standards and upping age limits.
The group's message this time, he added, would be that, "while this [3,000th] death isn't more important than the first death or the death before this, or any Iraqi death, it is a milestone. This war is already lost."