It's not everyday that people have the drive and motivation to do a marathon, much less run across the country.
Ernie Andrus, a 96-year-old World War II Veteran, began a run from the old Coast Guard Station on Saint Simons Island at the Atlantic Ocean on March 19, 2019. His goal? To cross the United States and reach the Pacific ocean at Mission Beach, San Diego, Ca., where he began his first cross-country run in 2013. His first run began Oct. 7, 2013 and ended Aug. 20, 2016, the day after his 93rd birthday.
"I used to do a lot of 5 and 10K runs and I like running. Then I heard about a guy– he was from Great Britian – and he was running across every country. When he ran across the United States, he stayed at a friend of mine's house overnight and I thought ‘gee, that sounds like a lot of fun – I think I'll do it!'"
He said that a couple of years after running his first trip cross-country, he became "bored" and decided to do it once again, but in the opposite direction. On Thursday, he was running through Singer. He planned to make it to the Texas border by July 19, 2020 and still be in the Lone Star State for his 97th birthday on Aug. 9, 2020. The first run was completed in 999 hours, 32 minutes and 1 second. This second run will take him approximately five years, and he'll be 100 years old upon finishing.
Andrus' first 200 mile relay was at the age of 88, and the attention he received inspired him to do a bigger run to raise money for the LST 325 Ship Memorial, a World War II era ship that was used to land equipment and troops on hostile shores.
"If an 88-year-old gets that much attention on a relay, how about a 90-year-old across the country?" said Andrus, "I tried to raise some money for the LST, I was hoping to get enough money to move it to Normandy for a D-Day Memorial, but there's no way we can raise that much money. So we're using it to keep the ship sea-worthy and keep it in port."
On his website, Andrus states that he was one of the crew that brought the ship back from the island of Crete, Greece to the U.S. in 2000-20001, the instance that was aired on the History Channel in "The Return of LST 325."
In total, 1,051 LST's were built during World War II, but this 325 is the only one left that is restored and operational.
"It meant a lot to me. You know, a sailor falls in love with a ship. We called her the ‘Gray Lady'--she took us into harm's way and got us out," said Andrus, recalling about his time with another LST 325, "She kept us alive. It just means a lot to a sailer."
His status as a veteran has never been something that he saw as exceptionally significant, according to Andrus.
"Everybody in my generation ... we're all Veterans, so I never gave much thought to it," said Andrus. He explained that when he first began running, people were more interested in his veteran status than his age, but that has since turned around and his age has caught the fascination of many.
"One thing, when I do presentations at schools...I try to impress on these kids that freedom is not free. They need to know what it took to keep this country free, and I want them to understand that they're gonna be responsible for keeping it that way."
In many videos and pictures of Andrus running, he can be seen holding an American flag as he runs.
"When I was running through a suburb of Phoenix, there was a very dangerous highway on a curve that I was worried about it, and one of my friends who was running with me had brought an American flag along. He ran ahead and I noticed when he held out that flag, people would move over, so I thought it seemed like a good idea so I went to a store and bought a whole bunch of flags. It became part of the run--everybody knew we had the flags. It's good, show some patriotism!"
Between runs, which total approximately 13 miles a week, Andrus can be found in his RV at various campgrounds.
"Oh, there's so many that I can't start to name them all," enthused Andrus when asked what his favorite places have been, "One's coming up pretty soon ... Jasper, Texas. Man, they were so good to me before and now they're arranging for something big this time when I get there. I'll probably celebrate my birthday in that area."
"I get excited about meeting up with all my old friends!" expressed Andrus, "I made thousands of friends going across the first run, and now I'm getting to see those people going back the other way."
John Martin, who ran with Andrus five years ago and later in life happened to reside near him in California, is one of the few who have joined Andrus in his cross-country trek. Other companions include a man and his son that they'd met in Florida at a campground along with a couple that travels with their pop-up tent and stays near Andrus at the campsites.
"I'm doing it for the fun of it and I'm hoping to raise money for the ship while doing it. If I get enough sponsors, I was hoping to make a little profit. I have a granddaughter selling the books for me. I told her if we make a profit ... I don't need the money, but I would like to pay her some," said Andrus. He put $124,000 of his own money into the first run. He said that if anyone comes out, he carries his books and shirts with him.
Donations can be made to the LST 325 and Andrus himself for his venture at the website: coast2coastruns.com. There, people can also buy a t-shirt or his autobiography to support his cause or learn more about Andrus. Anyone interested in running or volunteering as part of the journey is free to contact him at email@example.com or (928) 308-5478. Updates can be found on his Facebook, where people are invited to message him, read messages and follow along on his journey. John Martin also posts updates on YouTube.