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Wood-carver Phil Hall talks about the process he went through to re-create the boot of Marine Cpl. Johnny Rook out of wood while working with one of the original boots Rook wore while deployed in Iraq. Instead of throwing the boots away, the Marine's father, Paul Rook, brought the left one to Hall to be carved. JOE HOWELL NEWS SENTINEL

(Reprinted from, June 25, 2007)

Wood-carver re-creates Marine's combat boot

Work of heart

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 proceed.

"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 day.

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 belongs to.

"It's all tied together now," Phil said. "All that's left is for me to meet Johnny. That's a must."