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Halfway there: 91-year-old World War II veteran runs coast-to-coast for a cause

You may have heard of Ernie Andrus back in October 2013, when he first set out to run coast-to-coast at age 90. A year and a half later, Andrus is now nearly 92 and just over halfway through his journey.

TODAY.com checked in with the valiant runner to see how he was doing.

Courtesy Ernest Andrus
Ernest Andrus and family.

The U.S. Navy World War II veteran served on LST 325, one of the 1,051 LST landing ships made for WWII, referred to by Eisenhower and Winston Churchill as “the ship that won the war.” More than 70 years after it was first launched, LST 325 is the last remaining vessel of its kind.

In 2000, Andrus was part of a group of retired military men who traveled to Greece to acquire and repair the old ship, spending four months making it “seaworthy” again and bringing it back to the U.S. in 2001 “on its own power” with a crew who averaged 72 years in age. Four years later, LST 325 inspired Andrus once again, as he decided to run across the country with the hopes of raising money to send it back to the shores of Normandy in 2019 for the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

HooplaHa / YouTube
The LST 325

Andrus has always loved running and when he read about individuals who were running across the country, his interest was piqued. He then looked up the oldest runner to have crossed the U.S. and, seeing that the record-setter was a mere 73 years old, thought to himself, “Well, I’ll beat him by 20 years; sounds like a lot of fun.” Andrus set out from San Diego on October 7, 2013.

Now 20 months and more than 1,500 miles in, Andrus finds himself about 22 miles east of Waco, Texas, averaging about 6.4 miles each time he sets out three days a week. But he's not alone in his feat. As Andrus says, “the more runners, the more fun,” and boy is he having fun. Just last month, he had 51 runners join him dressed in red, white and blue for a run that took place on the 71st D-Day anniversary.

“I try to get people to run with me,” he said. “So far, I’ve managed pretty well. I almost always have somebody.” Andrus likes having companionship on his runs so that they can park a car at both the start and the finish of the route, ensuring Andrus a way back to his mobile home at the end of each day. When running alone, Ernie often enlists the help of local volunteers to give him a lift at the end of his run. Otherwise, he hitchhikes. "I know I can stick out my thumb and the first person to come by will give me a ride,” Andrus told Yahoo News last summer. “They won’t pass up this old man out there, you know."

Courtesy Ernest Andrus
Ernest Andrus.

Nowadays, however, Andrus rarely finds himself alone. In addition to those who run with him, Ernie encounters numerous “greeters” along his journey, people who hear about his travels and stand by to welcome him into their towns and cheer him on as he passes though. Andrus ran through Seminole, Texas, to find roughly 300 children standing outside their local school waving him on with American flags and chanting “U-S-A” as he passed. He's now maxed out his Facebook friend limit due to all the supporters who want to be part of his journey.

In the outpouring of support, Andrus has been able to meet some incredible people and even make a few lasting friendships. A family in Hobbs, New Mexico, took him in as one of their own, helping him when he was sick and snowed in, with his RV frozen over just outside town. Not only did the family help find him the medical attention he needed to get over his bronchitis, but he was even included in a celebration for the 12th birthday of their daughter, who sported a red, white and blue tutu in his honor.

It was in this area that Ernie had his RV repaired, defrosted and winterized, all free of charge. “People just say, ‘this is my contribution,’” he said. Andrus has not received the financial support he had initially hoped for, but he's been rewarded through the kind gestures, aid and company of others. In turn, the financial goals for the trip have changed some, as Andrus has realized it would “take millions” to send LST 325 back to Normandy. Ernie now simply hopes to break even on his sponsorship money, adding, “If I don’t, it will be worth the fun I’m getting out of it. My last hurrah, so to speak.”

Andrus hopes to finish his trip at age 93 in Brunswick, Georgia.

You can follow Ernie’s travels on Facebook. To learn more about Ernie and his mission and to donate to Ernie Andrus, go to coast2coastruns.com.

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