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The Last March

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He came to Celeste Zappala’s door last April, the officer who broke the news that her foster son, Army Sgt. Sherwood Baker, 30, had been killed in Baghdad. “I kept asking, ‘What am I supposed to do? Tell me,’ ” she says. Since then, Zappala’s grief hasn’t abated, but the 57-year-old Philadelphia municipal administrator found solace in Eyes Wide Open—a traveling memorial to the Iraq war’s fallen, sponsored by the pacifist American Friends Service Committee. The exhibit features rows of combat boots, one for each of the 1,014 servicemen and women killed in Iraq to date. “Empty boots let you imagine the soldiers who should be standing in them,” says exhibit co-creator Michael McConnell, 57, a Chicago antiwar activist. “That leads to national questions: Why this war?”

Launched in January with 504 boots, the exhibit has since crisscrossed the nation. The ever-growing army of shoes, each pair bearing the name of a dead soldier, comes from surplus stores. Some are decorated with American flags and other mementos by family members. “Every boot has many tears shed over it,” says Janet Farrington, 33, the wife of an Iraq war vet, who visited the memorial when it was displayed at the Indianapolis Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument Sept. 11. Others call the exhibit unpatriotic. “They’re taking advantage of the deaths of our soldiers,” says Edytha Hall, 64, who joined a nearby pro-war demonstration. Yet for Celeste Zappala, who wept when she saw the pair of boots that stood in for those worn by her strapping son, the stark tribute is a way to say goodbye. “This is how a person walked the earth and no longer can,” she says. “All that’s left is the shoes they walked in.”