Ernie Andrus pulls on his running shoes and stretches in preparation for what lies ahead. He steps stiffly out the door and starts moving. Muscles gradually warm up as he puts one foot in front of the other. Ernie is working on achieving a goal he set off for on October 7, 2013. He hits the road and runs his first mile of the day, then his second, then his third, then...but you get the idea.
Ernie is working on a goal that would be daunting to anyone. He is running across the United States, from sea to shining sea. His motivation? He is trying to raise money to save something that is one of the last of a kind. It's an LST (military designations for Landing Ship, Tank), like the one Ernie was assigned to when he was a medic during World War II.
Yes, World War II.
Like the LST he is trying to save, Andrus is one of the last of his kind, a World War II veteran. And, if he completes his cross-country trek by his goal date in August of 2016, he will have done something pretty spectacular. Yes, even more spectacular than running across the entire country. You see, in August of 2016, Ernie will turn 93 years of age. That will make him the oldest person to ever run across the country, and breaking the old record by 20 years.
Currently Ernie averages six miles per day, three days a week, every week. He didn't set the goal lightly. He has been running most of his life. As he puts it, "I always say I never learned to walk until I was 40 because I ran everywhere." He hasn't actually run all of his life. He quit running for a few years because his second wife, June, kept telling him he would die of a heart attack. After June died, Ernie went right back to running. He has now outlived three wives. Maybe running is not the worst thing he could do for his health.
In 2000 a veterans group Andrus belongs to tracked down one of the last surviving LSTs in Greece and came up with the idea of sailing it to Normandy in 2019 for the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. That too was no small goal, as the ship (LST 325) was badly rusted, picked over, and the engines hadn't run in months. They were warned that it would take at least 44 strong, young men to restore the ship to working condition and sail it back to the US for full restoration. Ernie's group consisted of only 28 veterans, average age 72. With the same undefeatable attitude that won the war, the group got the ship in working order, at least good enough to sail it to Mobile, Alabama, within six months. Andrus said, "We were crazy old men when we left Greece--we were heroes when we got to Mobile."
I submit that they were heroes long before that.
Last time I checked, Ernie was in Texas, and heading east. He is accepting donations to fund the complete restoration of LST 325 in preparation for the trip to Normandy. He also enjoys having people run with him. Don't worry, he doesn't run real fast; he averages about a 20 minute per mile pace. That's barely more than a shuffle, but it's not bad at all for a 91 year old. If you want to donate to the cause, or you'd like to join Ernie on a run, or you'd just like to keep up with how his trek is going, friend him on facebook at facebook.com/ernest.andrus.9.
Go Ernie go. Long may you run. I suspect you, and LST 325, will be in France in 2019.