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Thursday, May 13, 2004 10:29 am

Freedom’s fabric

art1056
Mario Ingoglia is sewing American flags on 450 Guard uniforms
Photo by Job Conger

In a one-man shop at South Grand Avenue at Spring Street, a convivial 45-year-old immigrant turned outspoken American is contributing to the cause of freedom, one stitch at a time.

Mario Ingoglia was 6 years old when his family left his native soil of Castel Vetrano, Sicily, to come to the United States. When the family settled in Jacksonville, Mario's father, Tony, opened a tailoring business. Years later, after attending Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, Mario decided to take up needle and thread, and pursue tailoring as his profession. He moved to California, where he worked in the movie business and at a Nordstrom department store. In 1991, he moved to Springfield and a year later, with a $500 loan, started Metro Tailoring.

That was several wars ago.

Last month, Ingoglia received a call from an officer with Company C, 2nd Battalion, 130th Infantry Regiment, Illinois Army National Guard, based in Litchfield.

Ingoglia's mission, should he decide to accept it, was to sew U.S. flag patches onto 450 uniforms.

"He said he couldn't find a tailor shop or anyone in the sewing business to work with the government because of the way they have to pay me: on a one-time basis with a credit card," Ingoglia remembers.

"I thought that was strange during wartime. I said, 'Man, come on up. We'll work it out.' I told him I could get everything done in 30 days, and I negotiated a professional rate with him. He said he was real happy with the way I was conducting myself, and that's why he picked me."

Ingoglia's roomy, sunny shop looks like a Post Exchange with rows of camouflage shirts hanging from wheeled racks. All have last names of the soldiers destined to wear them already sewn into the space above the left pockets. Many have the "Hell on Wheels" unit patch also attached.

The flag sewn onto the right arm of uniforms presents the star field on the right of each patch, instead of on the left side, as most people display the Stars and Stripes. Lt. Col. Alicia Tate-Nadeau, public affairs director for the Illinois Army National Guard, explains that this format was selected to signify "our nation at war, worn by expeditionary forces. The blue field is forward because our forces are always moving forward."

Since the uniforms arrived, Ingoglia has dedicated a few days a week to focus on the flags. The rest of the week, it's business as usual.

Ingoglia says he's not been told much about the unit, but he knows it's an impressive mix of veterans and newcomers. "I don't know if they're going to be deployed. All I'm doing is getting their uniforms ready."

The desire to help is more than strictly business.

"I had a brother and nephew serve overseas in the U.S. Army," Ingoglia says. "I know what it's like to have family away from home and in harm's way.

"In my heart, I wanted to help."

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