Ernest Andrus, a World War II Veteran and former Navy Corpsman, walked from the West Coast to the East Coast from 2013 to 2016. Now, he is doing the same trek but starting on the East Coast as part of a fundraiser for the LST 325 Ship Memorial.
DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — As the sun rose over the city Thursday morning, Ernest Andrus began a four-mile west on U.S. Highway 90.
For most people, that may not seem like a lot. For Andrus, a 96-year-old World War II Veteran and former Navy corpsman, it’s been a journey years in the making.
It will be his second attempt to cross the country on foot. He completed a similar journey from California to Georgia in 2016, with a goal of raising money for a memorial of the LST 325, a ship like the one he served on during the war.
Andrus raised only about $30,000 during that three-year trek, so he decided to do it again, but this time started on the East Coast. He began his journey in St. Simons Island, Georgia, in March.
At a pace of four miles a day, three times a week, it will take him five years to reach San Diego.
“I don’t know if I’ll make it because I’ll be 100 years old by the time I finish, but at least I’m enjoying it,” Andrus said. “I just like to run. What else is there? There’s no pleasures left. The biggest pleasure in life is eating, and I’ve got these dentures so I can’t enjoy eating anymore.”
The LST, or landing ship tank, was WW II-era ship that was used to land equipment and troops on hostile shores. LST 325 is the only ship out of 1,052 built during the war that has been restored and is operational.
It was retrieved in 2000 and brought to port in Mobile, Alabama. The ship now is in Evansville, Indiana, but Andrus hopes to take the vessel to Normandy for a D-Day Memorial.
“I spent the last half of the war on LST 124, which is identical to the 325,” Andrus said. “A bunch of us guys who have served on LSTs have been watching for one. We waited 10 years until we finally found this one (LST 325) at the Isle of Crete in Greece, so we went over there and got it.”
Andrus is not alone as he treks across country. This time, he is joined by John Martin, a former San Bernardino County, California, firefighter.
Martin learned about Andrus during his first walk across the United States when Andrus was in Louisiana. He flew out to meet Andrus and spent a day walking with him before flying back home. He then met back up with Andrus in Georgia to cross the finish line.
After learning of Andrus’ decision to do it again, Martin retired early to walk across country with him.
“I thought he was out of his mind, but I thought ‘I’m going to do this’,” Martin said. “It’s an opportunity of a lifetime.”
Andrus is often joined by supporters along the route. During his time in Walton County, Penny Pinkham, executive director of Healing Tools for Warriors, has walked with him.
“I think it shows our younger warriors to stand up for what you believe in and be proactive,” Pinkham said. “If you believe in something, do something.”