BEMIDJI -- At the southernmost finger of Louisiana, where the Mississippi River mingles with the Gulf of Mexico, Chris Ring finally caught his breath.
The 28-year-old U.S. Navy combat veteran had been swimming--and swimming.
He had started June 6 at Itasca State Park, splashing down the Mississippi in a 2,552-mile paddle honoring families who have lost loved ones to war.
"Those families paid a huge sacrifice," Ring said June 9 when he visited Neilson Place in Bemidji. "We have the duty to honor those families and the ones that have fallen for us."
His swim started on D-Day and was scheduled to end on Veterans Day. Fatigue and a shoulder injury slowed his pace.
He averaged about seven hours in the water per day, swimming about 14 miles.
In the evenings, he dripped out of the river and spent nights in towns and cities along the banks, meeting some of the families for whom he swam.
Ring represents Legacies Alive, a nonprofit seeking awareness for America's "Gold Star" families. His swim is part of the Legacies "challenge" program, in which people attempt to raise awareness through extreme journeys.
According to the Legacies Alive Facebook page:
Ring started the last leg about 1:30 p.m. Friday near mile marker 3 in Pilottown, La.
He finished near mile marker 0 at the mouth of the Mississippi, called Head of Passes.
He was the first American to complete the swim. He had lost weight and grown a bushy beard.
Gold Star families from eight states were waiting at Head of Passes to greet him.