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From private nuptials to a wedding as public as you can get.

On Friday, Spc. Robert Fleming will have wed his soul mate, April Zehr, on live television in front of an anticipated 5 million viewers.

They had planned to wed — elope, to be exact — in December, when Fleming would be home on rest and recuperation leave from Iraq. Family knew of future nuptials, but not even the happy young couple had firm plans.

“We were going to wing it, come up with something,” Fleming said.

But in Fallujah, on Dec. 10, four days before his planned trip home to Syracuse, N.Y., someone remotely detonated an improvised explosive device, seriously wounding the 21-year-old gunner with “Attack” Company, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment of the 10th Mountain Division.

“My nose was blown off. There was nothing on my face, and I had shrapnel in my arms, shoulder and back,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of surgeries and have more to come over the next year.”

April, a nursing student, helped care for him.

The bride’s mother detailed the attacks in the letter she wrote to Regis and Kelly after learning of the show’s plans to award a fantasy wedding to one lucky couple.

“April and Robert promised themselves to each other before Robert received orders from his commander and was sent to served in Iraq,” reads a portion of Melissa Zehr’s letter. “Many letters and packages full of love were sent to Robert but not enough to keep him and other coalition forces safe.”

From more than 3,000 submissions, producers of “Live with Regis & Kelly” picked the soldier and the nursing student to live out a fantasy wedding; a mission, if you will, that had eluded the young couple.

“It’s really a snapshot of what we’re going through in Iraq,” Regis Philbin said in a phone interview from New York. “Here you have this couple who had been trying to get married and he gets involved in this horrible situation, the Humvee bombing, and their lives were put on hold. He suffered severe injures but they’re fixing him up at Walter Reed [Army Medical Center].

“It’s a wonderful story to hear. It’s an uplifting story that could have been disastrous for these two lives. But they’re grateful and inspirational and it’s a story that makes you feel good,” Philbin continued.

It will be the 16th annual wedding celebration for the show — one Philbin said will be “the best we’ve ever had.”

The bride’s and groom’s parents met for the first time Monday, and that’s when Fleming knew marrying his girlfriend of two years was exactly what he wanted.

“The two moms, they just hugged and didn’t let go for like, five minutes. That’s when I knew it was right,” he said.

All week, the young couple, both 21, have been featured on the daytime talk show, with events building to the big Friday wedding. They’ve received a $10,000 gift certificate from department store Fortunoff, and the reception will take place at the famed Central Park restaurant Tavern on the Green. Music star Seal will perform at their wedding.

On Thursday, the Army surprised Fleming when they awarded him the Purple Heart during the show’s broadcast, Col. Mark Milley, commander of the 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain, did the honors.

“He’s one of our soldiers and we were honored to be asked,” said base deputy spokesman R.D. Murphy. “We turned to Col. Milley, who is a brigade commander in the infantry, and who just got back from Afghanistan ... and who knows all about this kind of stuff.”

First brigade commander Col. William Garrett III, under which Fleming’s unit falls, is in Afghanistan.

ABC and the Armed Forces Network are planning a live feed to Fleming’s comrades in Fallujah, Iraq, in the hope that they will be able to watch their buddy tie the knot.

Because of host-country sensitivities, generally the only programs seen in Iraq are AFN sports and news, said AFRTS affiliate relations director Gene Frederickson. Those with decoders will be able to view the show, as will other overseas viewers, both live on Friday and replayed on Feb. 14 — Valentine’s Day.

You’re invited

Normally, AFN does not broadcast “Live with Regis & Kelly,” but because of the military connection, they will pre-empt normal broadcasting for the live and tape delay broadcasts, Frederickson said.

ABC and Armed Forces Network are planning a live feed to Fleming’s comrades in Fallujah, Iraq. This would be at 5 p.m. there.

It will air live Friday at 3 p.m. Central European Time, 5 p.m. in Iraq, on AFN Atlantic. The rebroadcast Feb. 14 will air at 7 p.m. Pacific time on AFN Pacific, and 2 p.m. Central Europe on AFN Atlantic.

— Sandra Jontz


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