Man running across U.S. in memory of fallen soldiers
June 23, 2010
Meet and greet
A meet-and-greet with Mike Ehredt will take place at 7 p.m. tonight at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4265, 419 E. Victory Way. The event is open to the public.
Mike Ehredt's feet shuffled along the Wyoming Highway 789 pavement Tuesday afternoon as he ran south toward Baggs, Wyo., carrying a story in his hand.
It was a small American flag with a yellow ribbon tied around the wooden dowel.
Handwritten on the ribbon was the name Keith E. Fiscus, a sergeant in the U.S. Army who was 26 when he was killed in December 2006 in Iraq.
As Ehredt reached a mile marker on the hot and windy Tuesday afternoon, he bent to the ground and secured Fiscus' flag into the gravel.
He gave the flag a brief salute — a remnant of Ehredt's own Army days in the 1980s — and then took off once more at a light jog, with a new flag in his hand, a new mile ahead and another story to contemplate.
When Ehredt reached Baggs on Tuesday afternoon, he had traveled about 1,500 miles as part of Project America Run, in which he will run from coast to coast, placing small American flags at every mile post to commemorate each military veteran who died in Iraq.
He has more than 4,400 flags, labeled with 1,000 feet of yellow ribbon.
And he has one mile for each flag in hand as he runs toward Craig today, down Colorado Highway 13.
His journey will end in October on the Maine coast.
"Ultimately, in my head, as I travel from the West Coast to the East Coast, I envisioned this invisible holding of hands, of service member to service member," he said. "So that when I was done, I would see this line across the country. I've wasted a lot of days just doing nothing, and to do something good means a lot to me."
Ehredt, a 49-year-old retired postal worker from northern Idaho, will run almost to Craig on Highway 13 today, and will stay with Craig resident Dan McIntyre tonight, who volunteered a place in his home and a warm meal for the traveler.
McIntyre, a Vietnam veteran, will then drop Ehredt off where he picked him up, and Ehredt will run through the Craig at approximately 9 a.m. Thursday, placing flags and leaving a trail of stories behind.
A quiet journey
The story of Project America Run began in Astoria, Ore., where Ehredt placed the flag of the most recent Iraq casualty: William Justin McClellan.
His route snaked through Montana, through rain in Idaho and over snowy passes in northern Wyoming.
In the three years it took to plan the project, Ehredt maintained his vision of a quiet, solemn journey.
"I didn't want a support crew," he said. "That takes away from the purity of it, and this way it allows you to meet people. I wanted to go solo."
He stays with volunteer hosts most nights, after traveling an average of 30 miles each day.
Some hosts are veterans themselves, and others have lost friends and loved ones in Iraq.
Since last week, Ehredt has had company on the road. His girlfriend of three years and running partner, Peggy Gaudet, is joining him on his daily runs.
Along the side the highway, Ehredt and Gaudet look like a pair out for an afternoon jog.
But, passersby might not know Ehredt is on his fifth pair of shoes or realize he's consumed 11 gallons of chocolate milk, which he likes to drink after his run.
He said he rejected the idea of his run being a political statement or advertisement.
He wants to preserve the quiet, remembrance present in his rhythmic gait.
"I never wanted this to be a political statement, I just want to honor and remember them," he said. "It's just out of a sense of honor and duty, to say thank you to those who served in Iraq."
Running for a reason
Ehredt's own story doesn't begin like most would expect of a long-distance runner.
He was born with clubfeet, a congenital deformity that internally rotates the ankles.
As he stretched out on the floor of his hotel room Tuesday afternoon, two lengthy scars on his shins bore the memory of legs that were once encased in casts, a far cry from running across mountains, deserts and continents in several international adventure races.
"I was grounded a lot when I was little, so I was always running around in circles in the house," he said. "It's just always been in the back of my mind that I wanted to do something cross-country."
He said everything below his waist goes numb as his feet slap the pavement.
He becomes oblivious to the fact that he is running, heightening his senses and awareness.
"A lot of times, I think about the name on the flag," he said. "I think about where they are from, and if they're a good person. I listen to a lot of what's going on around me."
The flags he places along the way can be sponsored by anyone by visiting Ehredt's website, http://www.projectctamericarun.com.
The VFW Post 4265 purchased a flag in support of one-time Craig resident Chance Phelps, who died in Iraq in 2004.
McIntyre, a VFW member, said he and the VFW are proud to support Phelps and all veterans who put their lives on the line, including Ehredt and his efforts.
"I was a combat veteran and I was involved with some heavy stuff," he said. "I am very respectful of any of our servicemen and women that have involved themselves in the military. Not only those who lost their lives, but also those who have served with the wariness to say, 'I put my life on the line for my country.'
"I'm honored to do anything I can for (Ehredt), but I think that whatever I do is going to be a drop in the bucket compared to what he does."