This story by William Mullen orginally ran in the Aug. 17, 1986, Tribune Sunday Magazine.

   At 9:30 a.m. on Friday, June 13, three men left the entrance to Navy Pier and began moving west along Grand Avenue. The three were old soldiers, the point men leading tens of thousands of their comrades in Chicago`s belated parade to welcome home the Vietnam veterans. As grand marshal there was the general who had commanded more than half a million men in the war. As honorary parade marshal there was the paraplegic veteran in a wheelchair who at a suburban swimming pool just a week before the parade had again become a hero. As chairman of the parade organizers there was the much-decorated ex-platoon sergeant who was still fighting to survive the aftereffects of the war.
    Gen. William Westmoreland, Jim Patridge and Tom Stack had started the parade a half hour early because far more men and women had turned out to march than they had expected. The trio hadn`t marched more than 25 yards when they had to stop. A car pulled up, and Bob Wieland emerged, fresh off an airplane, eager to join the parade.
    Wieland was drafted in 1968 after attending the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse and just as he was going to sign a contract to play baseball with the Philadelphia Phillies. On June 14, 1969, two months after arriving in Vietnam as an Army medic, he stepped on a booby-trapped mortar round. When he woke up in a hospital five days later, the 6-foot 205-pound athlete discovered that both of his legs had been blown off almost at the hips. His new weight was 87 pounds.
    Exactly a year after he lost his legs, Wieland won a gold medal in weight lifting in the middleweight division of the bench press in the National Wheelchair Olympics. Not satisfied with wheelchair competition, he competed for the next 10 years against able-bodied lifters. He did well, too, eventually establishing four bantamweight world records. The records never were recognized by the Amateur Athletic Union, however, for of a number of technical reasons revolving around his disability, one being that he was not wearing shoes.
    Bob Wieland is an irrepressible sort, though. The 40-year-old Milwaukee native, who now lives in California, had arrived in Chicago that morning. He was determined that he would march and march his own way. That meant pulling himself along with his hands, dragging himself upright, the bottom of his torso fitted with a specially tailored pad. He had, in fact, just a month earlier finished a three-year walk from California to Washington, D.C., to raise money to fight world hunger.
    The parade organizers were delighted that he had showed up, but they weren`t quite sure where to put him in the line of march.
    ``Would you mind walking at the head of the parade with Gen. Westmoreland?`` somebody asked Wieland. Westmoreland, after all, had emerged from America`s most unpopular war as a controversial figure, even among the men who served under him. As leader of all United States military personnel in Vietnam at the height of the conflict, he is often used, fairly or unfairly, as a symbol of the failed leadership of the war. No matter. Wieland said he would be proud to march with Westmoreland.
    ``Would you mind if Bob Wieland marched with you?`` somebody asked Westmoreland. After all, another legless vet, Jim Patridge, was to travel the parade route in his wheelchair alongside Westmoreland. Only seven days before the parade Patridge had dropped out of his chair and dragged himself through 60 feet of underbrush to reach and save a drowning 1-year-old from a swimming pool in west suburban Pleasant Hill. Because of his heroics, he was made honorary parade marshal. Officials weren`t sure if Westmoreland would want to be flanked by two paraplegic veterans.
    Westmoreland was resplendent in full uniform for the parade. That was unusual, as he has rarely appeared in uniform since he retired from the military. But the general had confided to a friend that morning that he wanted to be in uniform for the parade because ``somehow today it just feels right.`` And, no, he wouldn`t mind at all if Bob Wieland joined him, Patridge and Stack at the head of the column.
    It was a minor last-minute hitch, but Stack, 42, was relieved that it was resolved. For 13 months Stack, a professor of criminal justice at Richard J. Daley College, had been the driving force organizing the parade. As a sergeant he had led a combat platoon with the Army`s 9th Infantry Division through Vietnam`s Mekong Delta region in 1968 and 1969, winning Purple Hearts and Silver Stars along the way.
    Indeed, he says he had dreamed of organizing an event such as the parade since he was called a ``baby killer`` by an antiwar protester on the day he returned to the U.S. from the war in 1969. Too many men had gone to Vietnam, serving honorably and with valor, and too many had died to be dismissed by their own countrymen as unfortunate dupes caught up in an accident of history, collectively thought of as a bunch of baby killers and drug addicts.
    For more than a year, then, Stack and a small group of fellow veterans had sweated, cajoled, begged and borrowed the Chicago parade into existence. The idea of seeing the day when he and his fellow veterans could look back with pride on their service and their sacrifice may have had a special urgency for Stack. He is battling lymph cancer, now in remission after a year and a half of chemotherapy. It is the type of cancer that many thousands of Vietnam veterans now are battling, linked to Agent Orange, the chemical defoliant widely used to uncover the jungle sanctuaries of the enemy.
    And so it was that at 9:30 on this balmy Friday morning in the middle of June that four men, each wounded in his own way and still suffering from a war that ended 11 years earlier, led off a parade in its remembrance. And the collection of humanity they were leading was awesome.
    Two hundred thousand men and women veterans from every state in the union had gathered patiently at Navy Pier. Each had come because he or she wanted to come, underscoring that each in some fashion or degree also felt wounded by the war. Some had come alone, some in twos and threes. Many came with large groups of fellow veterans. Thousands brought their wives and children to march with them. Some came with their fathers, veterans of earlier wars. A few mothers came alone, bearing photos of dead sons, yearning for a moment of public recognition of their sacrifice. They were white, black, Hispanic, Oriental and American Indian. They were shod in sturdy work boots and supple wingtips. They wore pinstriped suits and motorcycle jackets. Their mood was an almost eerie combination of jubilant pride and funereal solemnity.
    And as the parade stepped off, nobody, including Tom Stack, knew what the reaction would be along its 2 1/2-mile route. Would there be a respectable crowd lining the sidewalks? Did enough people care to turn out for the march? Would they be respectful? Or would there be protesters and catcalls and ugly incidents reminiscent of the war years? Given that 200,000 veterans had gathered, however, it didn`t seem to matter how many people came to see their parade. This was the largest such gathering of veterans ever, and they, at least, understood each other and why they were there.
    Just as the group was leaving Navy Pier, Bob Wieland said something that put just the right spin on the spirit that would pervade the city for the rest of the day. He began to pull himself along with his hands and, laughing, turned to Stack, Westmoreland and Patridge.
    ``If I go too fast for you fellas,`` he told them, ``let me know, and I`ll slow up.``
    ``My God,`` Westmoreland said to a friend marching behind him, his eyes brimming with tears, ``what guts. What guts.``