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Veteran ends 4-year, 2,000 mile trek on hands

By JULIE BRIENZA

WASHINGTON -- A legless veteran who hobbled 2,000 miles across the United States on his padded knuckles ended his four-year trek Wednesday with an emotional ceremony at the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial.

'If anyone wants to know where the 'Hands Across America' are, here we are,' said Bob Wieland, 40, grinning and lifting a blistered fist in the air.

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Wieland, who lost both legs in a 1969 land mine explosion in Vietnam, began the trip Sept. 8, 1982, in Knots Berry Farm, Calif., outside Los Angeles.

Wieland's parents, friends and well-wishers walked the final mile with the exuberant, muscular veteran, cheering him on to the memorial on the National Mall.

Earlier in the day Wieland met President Reagan at the White House.

At the memorial, a military honor guard and T-shirted Army buddies at his side, the former combat-medic recounted the search and destroy mission that nearly claimed his life when he stepped on the land mine - an explosion that practically blew his body in half.

He prayed aloud, told stories of his arduous trip across sweltering, Arizona desert and smiled a lot.

'Don't be moved by the circumstances,' he said. 'I set out to do something and we accomplished that today, praise the Lord.'

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His mother and father, who live in Milwaukee, trailed behind the crowd of about 50 friends who walked the final mile with their son.

'His trip has been a worry for us,' Ida Wieland said. 'I'm just happy it's over. I'm just glad he came back alive from Vietnam and his trip.'

Wieland's platoon leader, James Sylvester, said he has the 'unfortunate distinction of being the last person to see Bob with his legs.

'When I found out (in a newspaper article) what he was doing, there was no doubt he was going to make this trip,' said Sylvester, who came to the ceremony from Seattle.

'Crawling across the country on his hands -- he's tough,' Sylvester said, shaking his head in near disbelief.

Wieland, who has been appointed to the Presidential Council on Physical Fitness, said his next challenge will be helping children see the importance of exercise.

'I plan to motivate them,' he said as he swung his padded body over the rough, rain-soaked pavement. 'I'll tell them to focus on the Lord, stay away from alcohol, set some goals and follow through with them.'

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