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Last updated on Thursday, June 12, 2014
(UNDATED) - A World War Two veteran is running across the country to bring attention to a one-of-a-kind military ship that’s parked in Indiana.
90-year-old Ernie Andrus started his trek by touching the Pacific Ocean last October and is currently in Arizona.
"I average about 17-and-a-half miles a week" he told reporters by phone from his RV as he prepared to measure out the distance for his next run.
Andrus runs every Monday, Thursday and Saturday, sometimes alone, other times with supporters of the reason for his journey, LST 325, which is anchored on the Ohio River in Evansville.
LST stands for Landing Ship Tank. They were developed during the Second World War as a way for the U.S. and its allies to land not only troops, but also tanks and other heavy equipment on beaches, particularly during the Allied invasion of Normandy and to help fight Japanese troops on islands in the Pacific, where Andrus served.
"Evansville built more LST's than any other shipyard in the country, 167" said Chris Donahue, who is on the Board of Directors of the LST 325 Memorial, which cares for the ship and gives tours to the public.
"They were called cornfield shipyards, places like Evansville, Jeffersonville and Seneca, Illinois, places which had never built ships before and never would again."
More than 1,000 LST's were built. The only one remaining that is sailing condition is LST 325.
"As far as we know, it's the only ship that was at the Normandy invasion that still sails on its own power today," Donahue said.
Andrus is part of the reason why it survives. Many LST's were purposely destroyed by the U.S. during nuclear bomb tests in the 1950's, and though some were used for combat as late as the Vietnam War, others were given away or sold for scrap.
LST 325 was discovered in Greece, which had acquired it from the U.S. in 1964. The LST Memorial bought it in 2000, and Andrus and several other World War II veterans traveled to Greece to clean it up and sail it back across the Atlantic.
"They told us it was a job that 44 young men could never do. Well, 28 old men went over there and did it," Andrus said, adding that he scraped several inches of grease off the deck of the galley so he could work it during the restoration.
Winston Churchill once said the Allies would not have won the war without the LST. For Andrus, who was a Navy corpsman, that's reason enough to see that the last one gets the attention it deserves.
"We want to take it to the people, to other ports, because not everyone can get to Evansville," Andrus said. "We want the younger generations to see what it took to win World War II."
He believes it so much, he is willing to run until he is 93 to do it - at his pace, that's how long it would take him to reach his destination in Georgia.
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