Bob Wieland is a man who lost both legs in Vietnam but has gone on to become the hands and feet of Jesus Christ.
Wieland, who has walked across America on his hands will be the guest speaker during a special Veterans Day observance at First Baptist Church in Eudora this Sunday at 10:30 a.m. The church is located at 9670 Commerce Street Extended (Hwy. 304) in Eudora.
"Bob was a medic in the Vietnam War," said Steve Albonetti, the pastor of First Baptist Church of Eudora who is playing host to Wieland. "He was literally trying to help wounded comrades and stepped on a land mine which blew his legs off. They put him in a body bag. Thought he was dead. Then he gave one last breath and they saw the body bag move. They unzipped it, put him on a helicopter and flew him to a hospital."
Literally brought back from the dead, Wieland has been sharing his amazing story ever since.
"They call him Mr. Inspiration," said Albonetti, who has been pastor at First Baptist Church of Eudora for the past 23 years. "He is always encouraging — always rooting for the underdog. He has shared the message that the purpose in life is to have a relationship with Jesus Christ."
Wieland would go to serve the country in many capacities, speaking out on veterans issues and even serving a stint as a strength coach for the Green Bay Packers.
"I've had many men to speak at our church but I've never had anyone quite like him," Albonetti said. "He is amazing. A very unique man."
Courageous heroes like Wieland are needed in this day and time, according to Albonetti.
Albonetti decried the recent church shooting in Texas and other acts of wanton violence that has spread like wildfire across the nation and globe.
He cited Scripture in the words of Second Timothy: 3:1:
"This know also, in the last days, perilous times will come."
Having someone like Wieland, who exemplifies self sacrifice, can help put the nation back on the right path.
Who better to do so than a man who has no legs, said Albonetti of his special guest speaker.
After recovering from his injuries, Wieland was inspired to become a marathon participant. Over his lifetime he has finished many marathons, often taking multiple days to finish. He is the only double amputee to finish the difficult Kona, Hawaii Ironman race without a wheelchair. He "ran" across America on his hands, taking three years, eight months, and six days to travel from coast to coast.
Growing up in Wisconsin, Wieland attended the University of Wisconsin.
A talented baseball player, he was negotiating a deal with the Philadelphia Phillies professional baseball team when he decided to join the Army as a combat medic.
According to his official biography, Wieland's squad "walked into a minefield in June of 1969. When a member of his unit stepped on a booby-trapped mortar, Wieland rushed to give first aid but he, too, stepped on a 82mm buried mortar, a round designed to destroy tanks. It severely damaged his legs; they had to be amputated above the knee."
In a letter to his parents after his accident, he wrote:
June 14, 1969
Dear Mom and Dad:
I'm in the hospital. Everything is going to be O.K. The people here are taking good care of me.
P.S. I think I lost my legs.
Wieland likes to say of that day, "My legs went one direction, my life another."
"After recovering from his injuries, Wieland enrolled at California State University, Los Angeles majoring in education. After college, he joined the Green Bay Packers as a physical trainer," according to Wieland's biography.
"In November 1986 he completed the New York City Marathon, taking four days to complete the 26 miles (42 km) race. He "ran" across America on his hands, taking three years, eight months, and six days to travel from coast to coast and raise money for Vietnam war veterans.
In 1988 at 41, he finished the Los Angeles Marathon, taking 74.5 hours to finish the 26.2 miles (42.2 km) race. He started the race a day earlier than everyone else and finished two days after the last runner had crossed the finish line.
On August 23, 2012, Wieland announced his plans for the Celebrate America Tour starting in January 2013. Over the next 5 years, his plans are to visit all 50 States in the USA, extending a challenge to do a measure more and inspire others! He will be speaking at conventions, corporate meetings, military bases, universities, high schools and churches."
That quest brings him to Memphis and the Mid-South, with a stop in Eudora on Sunday.
It's a message that Albonetti hopes will resonate with his congregation and guests. Albonetti is hoping his church is filled to capacity.
Speaking of capacity, Albonetti has a full house himself.
Albonetti and his wife of 32 years, Melinda, are the parents of 12 children, seven girls and five boys.
Despite the "perilous times" that America and the world finds itself in, Albonetti said that he has hope.
"The spiritual warfare that we are enduring is not against flesh and blood," Albonetti said. "Men and women are being inspired to commit evil. What's sad is that it seems to be going from bad to worse. They need to be inspired to do good."
Like Wieland, Albonetti has a simple hope for mankind but a powerful one.
"There is hope. The hope is found in our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ."
Robert Lee Long is Community Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted at email@example.com or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252.