QUITMAN, Ga. (WTOC) - A World War II veteran is making his second trip across the country on foot.
Ernest Andrus left St. Simons Island on his way to California, and we caught up to him as he left the Peach State on Thursday.
Just after dawn on quiet road, Ashville Hwy, Andrus’ travel partner John sets out a sign stating simply “Ernie’s Starting Point" and they begin. It’s not a shotgun start and Ernie jokes, “Believe it or not, this is my running pace.”
It may be slow, but at 95-years-old, Andrus makes our time short with passages from his page in history. He was Navy Corpsman in the Pacific.
“My job was to keep those marines alive. Never lost a patient the whole war. We had one that set the stretcher down and we thought he was dead, but he moved his head, and me and the doctor didn’t get along at all," he said.
Andrus says he’s on memory lane since leaving St. Simons March 16 and he says he feels great. That’s pretty amazing for enduring a heat wave in the Coastal Empire already, and summer in the South ahead of him.
I couldn’t help but think of him and our sweltering Memorial Day, so I stated “You made it through the hottest May in South Georgia on record!"
He responded unphased, “It was hot, but it wasn’t too uncomfortable. People that run with me thought it was uncomfortable."
Few people passed by, let alone ran with Andrus and Jamie, considering they were on the road for two hours, but that didn’t damper his spirits.
He crossed the country the first time starting when he was 93-years-old and it took it two years. So I asked whether walking was more difficult or the war.
“World War II," He said. "Young people, they go there looking for adventure more than anything else, get in the action, because they’re indestructible, and I wasn’t any different than any other teenager, but once over there, you start thinking about getting home alive.”
At his pace, Ernie won’t make it to the other side of the country until he’s 100, but his purpose is clear.
“Freedom is not free! We were called on to do our part. Generations were called on do their part, and future generations will probably have to do their part," he said.
Ernie’s part in the Pacific Theater as a Navy Corpsman is still as fresh as the morning’s dew; he kept soldiers alive and helped set up base camps on islands to eventually bomb Hiroshima.
“Once we put that airport on Tinian, I was there. We took Saipan then Tinian. Our ships hauled the trucks in and we put them on topside, and we hauled the trucks in to build the airport and that’s where they flew the atomic bomb off of," he said.
Ernie says he was prepared to be at war much longer, and perhaps his sense of adventure and love of country is what keeps this American Hero going on the the long and sometimes lonely road to California.
Ernie wants to thank all the people that ran with him in Southeast Georgia and the Georgia Highway Patrol for their escorts. The FHP is now escorting him in Florida.
If you would like to help this American Hero, head to his website.