96-year-old WWII veteran is running coast-to-coast again. This time to raise money to sail a restored ship

Ernie Andrus has always preferred running to walking. Now at 96 years old, he is running coast to coast, including a stretch through Louisiana that led him from Krotz Springs to Billy’s Boudin about 3.8 miles west on Highway 190.

Andrus’ next stop, Bada’s Bar along Hwy 190, features a sign saying “Ernie’s Finishing Point.” He averages 13 miles a week on a run that he expects to finish in the next four years.

The World War II veteran is running across the country to raise money to sail the fully restored military landing ship, the USS LST 325, to Normandy for a D-Day anniversary.

The idea to run coast to coast started when Andrus heard about a man from Great Britain running across every country. This inspired Andrus to plan a run across the U.S., but first he had to make sure he could do it.

He started running long distance relay races. At 88, Andrus ran his first Ragnar 200-mile relay. Attention was drawn to Andrus when he was featured in “Ragmag” magazine.

“People were asking for my autograph and wanting pictures taken with me,” he said. “I thought if an 88-year-old gets this much attention, how about a 90-year-old running coast to coast.”

At first, the countrywide run was just for “the adventure and the fun of it.” But it occurred to him that he could raise money for a dream he thought was impossible: take the LST 325 back to Normandy.

“This was a dream a few of my shipmates and I had which we figured could never happen,” he said.

Andrus was a Navy corpsman whose job was to keep wounded Marines alive until they were brought to a hospital.

“God was good to me,” he said. “I never lost a patient during the entire war.”

During WWII, Andrus served on the USS LST 124, identical to the repaired LST 325. Some of his shipmates spent years searching for a military ship to use as a floating memorial.

Three years of red tape, an act of Congress, and the president’s signature, the shipmates were able to start work on the LST 325, the only one that looked like it could be made seaworthy.

“A group of us old salts flew to the Isle of Crete and spent four months restoring it,” he said.

Andrus made history with his first cross-country run, becoming the oldest person to run the distance. He finished one day after his 93rd birthday, on Aug. 20, 2016. Since then, he decided to do the run again, this time East to West.

Every day starts at 3 a.m. with a few exercises recommended by Kaiser Hospital to get the heart pumping. Next is a cup of coffee, then shave. By 5 a.m., breakfast is finished and Andrus spends the rest of the day rotating between naps and screen time.

He is always accompanied by John Martin, Louisiana native and retired firefighter who met Andrus on his first run. Marin helps with driving, shopping, laundry, and planning Andrus’ runs.

On days that he runs, Andrus postpones breakfast.

“A shower, a nap and back to the usual,” he said. “I usually retire around 9 p.m. just after I lift weights to keep my leg muscles strong.”

Since restrictions have been put in place during the coronavirus pandemic, Andrus has not been able to host meet-and-greets or book signings. His running schedule hasn’t been affected, but his treks are far more lonely now.

“I have very few friends running with me,” he said. “I miss those hugs and handshakes.”

He is also getting far fewer sponsors and donations. Although monetary support through PayPal and merchandise is appreciated, more than anything Andrus wants support through running buddies.

“I’ll run, you can walk. My pace is slow,” he said.