They’ve been dubbed “The Greatest Generation.” They survived the Great Depression to march off to war following the attack on Pearl Harbor which culminated a little over four and a half years later with the surrender of Japan September 2nd 1945. They came home to a sluggish economy and raised the Baby Boomer generation. Many like U.S. Navy Corpsman Ernie Andrus while in the autumn of their years continue to give back to the country they fought for. Having started his run across America with his feet in the Pacific Ocean he placed his fingers in the Atlantic on the day before his 93rd birthday. Corpsman Andrus served during WWII on the USS LST 325, the ship built for landing tanks. USS LST 325 participated in the landings at Omaha Beach, Normandy France for D-Day June 6th, 1944.
In a recent trip to Alaska to visit his step-daughter Sandy Suelzle of Soldotna, he took time to talk with the Dispatch. Andrus said it all started in his eighties when he heard of a guy running across every nation, “He came through our town in Prescott, Arizona where I was living and I thought gee that’s something I’d like to do. So after I ran my first two hundred mile relay when I was 88 years old I got so much attention, they featured me in their magazine and all wanted pictures with me just because of my age, so I thought well if an 88 year old man gets this much attention how about a 90-year-old running coast to coast. So I thought maybe I could raise some money to get our ship back over to Normandy for a memorial service 75 years later and beach it in the spot she landed on D-Day. I raised a bunch of money but not near enough to get her back over there,” he said. According to Andrus of the more than 1,000 LST’s built for the war the LST 325 was the only one left that is operational. “The Captain told me it would never happen, but said well I can try and I did raise enough to preserve the ship and keep her shape to take to other ports where people can see her up close. She’s now docked in Evansville, Indiana at the ship yard where she was built. Since I did my run there a lot more people coming to see it,” said Andrus.
He made the sea to shining sea run all on his own, “I bought me a motor home and a car to tow behind because my wife was going to go with me. She was 92 and losing her eyesight so decided not to come along so I used the car to commute. I moved the motorhome about once a month using the car to commute. The run took me two years and ten months to complete, my wife passed away from a stroke, but I met so many wonderful people along the way. I just have to say there is just no place like the good old USA for generous and loving people. I met hundreds of them and I met thousands that have said I’ve inspired them to get back to exercising and that’s a good feeling to hear about that. I love going to schools and talking to kids. I love the 5th graders because they have a lot of questions and are very interested in making choices that will last the rest of their lives. There are interested in history and think that I’m part of history,” he laughed. Recalling the war Andrus said, “My job on the LST was to keep the Marines alive. The corpsman on the beach would apply turn kits and give them shots of morphine and then bring them back to the ship that was right there on the beach and easy to get to, so we’d try to keep them alive until we could get them onto a hospital ship. Eisenhower said it was the ship that won the war and Churchill agreed. And I just don’t want folks to forget that,” said Andrus. As he made his way across America running 5 miles a day hundreds joined him cheering him on and being inspired by him. Having visited Alaska and fished on the mighty Kenai River he’s returned to California proving that the Greatest Generation is still doing great things. To see a video about his run or to contribute to the LST 325 fund visit coast2coastrunus.com.