“I heard about a guy from Great Britain running across every country. I thought that sounded like fun. I finished my first run across the United States one day after my 93rd birthday. I am now running back across the country from the Atlantic in Georgia to the Pacific in California, retracing the run I did before. I can’t run as fast as when I was a young man at 93.
I am running four and five miles, three days a week. I average 12 miles a week now, but I averaged 18.4 miles a week the first time. We put a sign up where I stop and go back to that start the next time. I run every step of the way. I was 95 when I started in March and ran about 700 miles in nine months. I turned 96 in Grand Ridge Florida and I will turn 97 in August in Texas. Possibly Lufkin.
No one took me seriously when I told them I was going to run across the country. I have always been a runner. My mother told me I stood up at eight months and I started running instead of walking. I ran barefoot at our farm in Kansas. I managed stores and must have looked silly running all over the stores. When I was 40 years, my second wife told me to slow down, I was going to have a heart attack. I wanted to please her and quit running. That was a mistake. We had seven girls and then a little boy came along in my old age. I needed more energy so I started running again. I felt so much better and never stopped. My dad died at 96 and I was trying to figure out what he did wrong. He quit running. He had a pacemaker at 87 and the doctor told him to take it easy.
I ran the first run by myself. I drove the RV and did all of the planning. I learned to park at the spot where I would finish and stand by my car with my flag. People thought I was an old man broke down and they stopped to help. They give me a ride to my starting point. I made thousand of friends running across the country. I also went through ten pair of shoes the first time. I change them out about every 300 miles.
This time, my friend John is driving the RV and helping out. We were camped in Mobile for a month and are going to Pascagoula next. We tow a car behind us to the next campsite. We stay for one to four weeks at each stop. Right now I am living and running on the road. I have outlived three wives and my house is on the market. I will be 100 years old when I finish. Why worry about a place to live?
(“If it rains, he gets wet while he runs. If there is snow or ice on the road and it is slippery, I don’t let him run. Or if it is too windy. We are taking the flattest course, but we have to climb up to 8600 feet in New Mexico. I am hoping we won’t be there in winter. We will drive to the other side and go back when the winter is over. The downhills are hardest because he leans forward. It is going to take us over a year to get through Texas. We are hoping he has one birthday in Texas, and not two. We plan for slowing down because he can’t keep up the same pace and will get slower as he goes. We are shooting for the 4th of July, his birthday, or Veterans day for his finish day in 2024.” John, Ernie’s driver and helper.)
My mom and dad lived in the smokehouse at my grandmother’s house until my dad bought a farm. That smokehouse was my first home. The border of our farm was the Missouri River. My dad collected arrowheads while he plowed the field. He went to California during the Depression sold most of his arrowhead collection for $100 to buy a car. My 15-year-old brother was dying from cancer. The night he died, he told my mother, ‘I am dying tonight, there is no reason you can’t go to California now.’ So we packed up and went. I was 14, and stayed in California most of my life
I was cruising the streets of Los Angeles with a friend on a Sunday in my Model A Roadster trying to pick up chicks. They said over the radio that Pearl Harbor had just been bombed. I asked my buddy where is Pearl Harbor? He said he didn’t know, but it sounds like we are at war, let’s join the Navy. I had a lazy left eye and it took my six tries to get in. I finally memorized the eye chart and got in. They gave me $21 a month at boot camp. That was the most money I had made in my life and I didn’t have to worry about clothes or where my next meal was coming from. There were no spoiled kids because we had been through the Depression. We had nothing.
I was in the hospital corps and kept Marines alive. I never lost a patient during the whole war. I served on an LST (Landing Ship, Tank). It was built in cornfield shipyards so Hitler wouldn’t know what we were doing.
In 1964, the U.S. gave ships that we were going to scrap to our allies to rebuild their navies. They gave Greece several LSTs, and there were none left in the United States. In 1999, Greece decided the LST was obsolete. One of the guys from our LST Association flew over and asked the admiral if we could have one and they said yes. We spent three years trying to get a bill passed through Congress to bring it back. President Clinton and Congress signed it, but the State Department wouldn’t let us go. We spent four months in Greece anyway, working on the LST 325 making it seaworthy. We formed our own navy and sailed the LST to the U.S. as a pirate ship under no one’s authority.
We didn’t know how we were going to get the LST into the United States. If they ask who is the captain, we would all step forward and let them arrest all of the old men. The average age or our group was 72, I was 77. It took us 13 days to get from Athens to Gibraltar because everything that could go wrong did. Fuel prices went up and we ran out of money. British Petroleum and Phillips Petroleum donated fuel. We had a little help from above on our pirate run.
We docked the ship in Mobile in 2001, the only place that welcomed us in. LST 325 was there for five years for repairs. The skipper married me and my wife on the ship while it was in Mobile. There is a replica of the 325 in a glass case on the USS Alabama. It is the only LST in operation and it is now in Evansville, Indiana. I try to raise awareness and money on my runs for the preservation of the LST. Our dream is for it to sail around the country as a museum, but the government says no.
I could never turn down an adventure. My brothers and I had them growing up on the farm in Kansas and I never outgrew it. I would rather run across the country than run through my neighborhood. It is the people I get to meet along the way. Thousands have told me that I inspired them to run. I love talking with the kids and telling them we are counting on them. My generation and the ones before us made this a free country. It is up to you to keep it that way. Don’t let us down.
When I was young, I thought 96 was old. It doesn’t seem so old now. I need to live another four years to get to the Pacific Coast. John promised me that if I don’t make it, he will carry me in the coffin to the finish line and put up a sign that says Dead End.”
(Ernie Andrus, Ernest Andrus, is still alive and running through Elton, Louisiana today. My kid Jake and I interviewed Ernie in December when he was running through Mobile. Memorial Day feels like the right time to share his story to give a little hope and encouragement. To remind us of the reasons for our freedom and that anything is still possible.)