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91-year-old World War II veteran making history by running across America

By JANESSA MAXILOM | Alamogordo Daily News, N.M. | Published: November 8, 2014

(MCT) — With every step he takes, Ernie Andrus is making history as the oldest person in the United States to run across America.

Andrus, a 91-year-old World War II veteran is running coast to coast to raise funds and awareness for the LST 325 Ship Memorial, Inc. The Landing Ship Tank is lauded for giving America the upper hand in WWII.

"We call them large slow targets," Andrus said with a mischievous chuckle.

Andrus joined the Navy in 1942 and served on an LST in the pacific theater. The old sailor explained the importance of the WWII artifact.

"Both Eisenhower and Churchill made a similar statement about the LST being the ship that won the war," he said.

In the Navy, Andrus served as a hospital corpsman. He jumped from island to island assisting fellow service members thanks to LSTs.

"I spent the whole war in the Pacific," he said. "We went everywhere. We island hopped. Island hopping was taking all the islands back away from the Japanese. We would take troops over and then we would bring the wounded back."

The LST which was used to land soldiers, supplies and vehicles directly onto enemy beach territory was designed in 1942.

"Out of 1,051 LSTs that were built during World War II there is only one operational left and that's the LST 325," he said.

Andrus said LST played a major role in military operations including D-Day at Omaha Beach, Normandy in 1944.

"I happened to be one of the crew that brought the World War II LST back from Greece when we were on the History Channel's return of LST 325," he said. "We were hoping to take it back to Normandy this year for D-Day plus 70 and probably beach it at the same beach it beached at 70 years ago."

Andrus said moving the ship could cost anywhere from $3 million to $7 million or more.

"Well, we didn't have enough money so we had to cancel that," he continued. "So, then I thought, gee, if I would run across the United States maybe I could raise enough money to take it over there for D-Day plus 75. So, that gives me five years to raise the money."

Andrus's goal is to return the LST 325 to Normandy in 2019. To accomplish his objective he's been running three days a week since he embarked on his journey Oct. 7, 2013. He started running in San Diego.

"I've ran 959 miles so far," he said. "It will take me almost three years to run across the United States because I only run 3 days a week.

"I want to try to average 20 miles a week for the entire trip across the county," he added. "I figure right now my plan was to get me into the Atlantic in May of 2016. But don't mean I'll make it by then. That's barring any hold ups of any kind."

The veteran said he's doing his run at a slow and steady pace. He runs anywhere between 3-10 miles in a day.

"When I hit the hills I make 'em shorter then when I hit flat areas I lengthen them," he explained.

On Nov. 1, Andrus ran more than three miles up the steep winding road of U.S. Highway 82 towards Cloudcroft. During his run, Andrus was joined by local citizens and airmen from the 49th Operation Support Squadron who wanted to help him accomplish his dream.

Andrus said one of the greatest parts of his trip has been meeting people along the way. He said he's had many people join him on his jog and donate to his cause.

"The most generous people in the world are Americans," he said. "I've been all over the world and I found that everywhere you went they're trying to get the money from you and here they donate. It's just amazing."

Andrus said his trip has been wonderful experience thanks to the kindness of others and the beautiful scenery.

"I'm having the time of my life," he exclaimed. "This is an adventure and that's part of why I'm doing it – for the adventure."

Andrus plans to finish his journey near Burnswick, Ga.

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©2014 the Alamogordo Daily News (Alamogordo, N.M.) Distributed by MCT Information Services
 

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