The real boot is made of canvas and leather. The material is faded and
worn, and if you look closely, you can see a bloodstain on the outside
edge of the sole.
The wooden replica is made of basswood. The carver's knife captured
every detail, right down to the dog tags on the laces.
The boot belongs to Jonathan Rook, a 21-year-old Marine corporal from
Knoxville who is on his third deployment to Iraq. The wood carver is
Phil Hall. The two have never met, but they have a mutual connection in
a barbershop, which is where the story of the wooden boot begins.
When Rook came home after his first deployment in Iraq, he left his
combat boots in his bedroom. Rather than throw them away, his father,
Paul Rook, stored the boots in the attic, thinking that one day they
would have powerful sentimental value.
Paul's barber is Kelly Hall, owner of Belle Cook's barbershop in
Bearden. Her husband, Phil, does wood carving as a hobby. He specializes
in boots and shoes, and some of his award-winning works are on display
in the barbershop.
While getting a haircut one day, Paul asked Kelly if her husband
might be willing to carve a Marine's combat boot. Phil accepted, and he
insisted on doing the carving for free.
The work did not begin overnight. Phil placed the block of wood and
the boot side by side and stared at them until his heart told him how to
"I thought about all the places that boot had been - the sewers of
Iraq, the streets of Iraq. I had to look at that boot a long time before
I knew what to do."
The youngest of 11 children, Phil tried to enlist during the Vietnam
War but was turned down because of a hearing impairment in one ear.
"I wanted so much to serve my country at the time," he said. "Carving
the boot is my way of giving something back."
It took Phil 100 hours to complete the left-foot, size-12 combat
boot. The detail is remarkable. The fabric of the real boot is permeated
with sand, and likewise, the carving has a rough and grainy texture.
Johnny Rook enlisted in the Marine Corps after graduating early from
Farragut High School when he was 17. The boot is from his first
deployment in Iraq, when his unit was engaged in fighting almost every
Rook recently received a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for
exceptional dedication and performance as an infantry squad leader. His
parents expect him home by the end of September.
Phil said he is looking forward to meeting the Marine the boot
"It's all tied together now," Phil said. "All that's left is for me
to meet Johnny. That's a must."