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Boots will stand for war's fallen

Bettejo Indelicato and Ronald Deaton have seen the horror of war up close.

Indelicato was in southern Iraq on a volunteer mission working with Iraqi children in early 2003 when Operation Iraqi Freedom started.

"I was there when the bombs started falling," said Indelicato, a Spring Hill resident. "I was there helping civilians."

Ronald Deaton of Hudson spent a year of his 1965-69 Marine Corps tour in Vietnam.

On Monday, Deaton and Indelicato will join St. Petersburg resident Michael Fox and other anti-war protesters for a different kind of Memorial Day event.

Their goal is to call attention to the deaths of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians. To do this, they will create an exhibit titled Eyes Wide Open in Largo Central Park from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday.

The display will feature 171 pairs of black combat boots representing Florida service members who have lost their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Each boot will have a tag with the service member's name and hometown. If a surviving family member doesn't want the service member's name on the boots, it is removed but the boots remain.

"The war is removed from the average American's mind," said Indelicato, 47. "This a memorial to the fallen soldiers and an effort to open people's eyes to what this war is truly doing to our nation."

The exhibit was first held in Chicago in January 2004 by the city's chapter of American Friends Service Committee, a group founded by Quakers in 1917 to provide conscientious objectors with an opportunity to aid civilian war victims. In 2004, there were 504 pairs of boots symbolizing the lost lives of all U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

But it's another aspect of the Largo display that has raised the ire of at least one local resident. In addition to the boots, the exhibit will also feature regular shoes, which will represent Iraqi civilians killed in the conflict.

One boot will be surrounded by 250 pairs of shoes, representing what Fox said is the ratio of Iraqi civilian deaths to American soldiers.

"What do (Iraqi civilians) have to do with our Memorial Day, that's my only question," said Curtis Holmes, who asked the city to deny the group a permit. "We went in there as liberators, and now this guy is going to say these are the people killed in an occupation. We need to honor our veterans but to have a political display like this, it's purely political."

Holmes said he'd rather see another group of civilians honored on Memorial Day.

"Why not honor the 3,000 Americans killed on 9/11?" he asked.

After several conversations, city of Largo officials said they would allow the display if the protesters agreed not to make speeches, pass out pamphlets or wave signs. City Manager Norton Craig said city officials will be at the display to ensure the protesters adhere to the deal.

The display will be on a grassy area where the library used to be.

"I have no reason to keep them out," Craig said. "It's for people who want to come and see for themselves what's there, that's all. But it's a freedom of speech issue."

Fox argued that the shoes representing Iraqi civilians should be viewed.

"Totally innocent civilians are caught up in the war and are losing their lives," said Fox, 47. "Their story is a story that's not being told here."

Deaton, 60, said the boots are a powerful visual symbol of the human cost of war.

"You can't say one life is more valuable than another one because of nationality," he said. "Human life is human life. This will be a memorial for the people who died in this war and the only speeches that will be made will be made by the empty boots and shoes."

Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or dalee@sptimes.com

>>IF YOU GO

Eyes Wide Open

The exhibit, featuring 171 pairs of combat boots representing Florida service members who have lost their lives, will be at Largo Central Park from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Monday.

Boots will stand for war's fallen 05/24/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 28, 2008 4:02pm]

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