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Artist’s boots stand for memories of fallen GIs

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Giuseppe Pellicano, an art student at North Central College and Iraq War veteran, removes the mold from a porcelain boot he made in class on Monday, Jan. 16, 2012 in Naperville. Pellicano is making a boot for anyone who wishes to honor a soldier killed in the war. | Steven Buyansky~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 28, 2012 9:47PM

Giuseppe Pellicano tugs at the straps of an L-shaped porcelain mold, then gently peels away the plaster components. What emerges is a slightly moist, porcelain replica of standard issue military boot.

Pellicano smooths away the excess clay, carefully lifts the boot and places it in line with similar boots. Soon this one will look just like the rest, fired to an ivory white, dog tag hanging from a shoelace hole.

They’re haunting, resting on a lower shelf in the basement of the art building at North Central College in Naperville. Haunting because each boot represents a soldier’s life. And alongside the standard name, rank and branch of service, each of these dog tags contains one extra piece of information — their date of death.

So far, Pellicano has 14 boots, though the NCC senior hopes to get a lot more by semester’s end. Anyone who has lost a loved one in Iraq and Afghanistan can fill out an online form about their soldier. He will make a boot from each submission and present all of the completed boots as part of his senior art show.

“If I have 200 boots, they’ll all be there,” says Pellicano, a Naperville father of three. “I want people to walk between and around them, to read their dog tags. I want to do right by them. I want to make them proud.”

And he wants people to remember their names, names like Army Cpl. Adam Fargo, 22, of Ruckersville, Va., killed in Baghdad on July 22, 2006. Fargo, a medic in an engineering unit, tended to the wounds of soldiers injured while clearing out roadside bombs. He himself died of wounds suffered when his convoy encountered enemy small-arms fire, according to the Pentagon.

Fargo was a four-year starter on his high school soccer team, attended George Mason University and Piedmont Community College. In 2004, he joined the military.

Upon completion of his medical training, he was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division in Fort Campbell, Ky., where he met Amy Metcalf. That first week they discovered they were assigned to the same unit in Iraq and became fast friends — he helping her move in; she driving him around to fill out paperwork.

“He was a really giving guy and like anyone in the military would attest, medics are a special breed,” says Metcalf, an army intelligence analyst who filled out Pellicano’s form on behalf of Fargo. “They would give you the shirt off their backs, and Adam was just like that.”

Pellicano says reading the submissions, many of which contain additional personal information about the soldier, makes each boot he makes deeply meaningful to him.

“It’s very emotional, especially when I get a pile of them (completed forms) and it’s like, I have all these people in my hands,” says Pellicano. “I want to do right by them. I want to make them proud.”

Pellicano’s own story also inspired him to steer his senior art project toward the military. Now 36, he spent five years in the Army, serving one tour as a medic in Kosovo. Though his arrival there came after the violence ceased, Pellicano says he saw the consequences of military action.

“It’s such a beautiful country, but the buildings were just demolished. The people were ill. Stray dogs were everywhere. Kids were begging for MREs (soldiers’ food rations),” says Pellicano. “It’s like taking Naperville, dropping a bomb on it and then coming back. You know Kosovo was a nice place at one time.”

The experience, he says, made him appreciate just how good we Americans have it. It also made him appreciate fellow soldiers, some of whom never see their native land again.

Pausing for a moment, Pellicano turns towards the boots and reflects.

“I would never have known these soldiers’ names, but now I do,” he says. “These are not just names on the news to me now, they are people.”

Though Pellicano doesn’t know exactly when the show will run, probably the last week in May, he says he would like to pursue getting his boots into other galleries, perhaps host a VFW show.

“My goal is to have some sort of commemorative for these soldiers,” he says. “They fought and died for us. The very least we can do is to remember them and to honor them.”

Anyone who would like to have a boot made for a fallen soldier is asked to visit

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