Running for veterans

Idaho man planting memorial flags on 2,200-mile trek

Army veteran Mike Ehredt, center, talks with third-grade students from Farmin-Stidwell Elementary School who accompanied him on a short run in Sandpoint, Idaho, before he began a 2,200-mile, cross-country trek from the Canadian border to the Gulf of Mexico that he calls Project America Run Part II. Ehredt runs a daily marathon, leaving American flags bearing the names of those who served and died in Afghanistan for every mile he travels. Two years ago, he ran 4,400 miles from Oregon to Maine, honor those who died in Iraq. Enlarge photo

DAVID GUNTER/Bonner County (Idaho) Daily Bee

Army veteran Mike Ehredt, center, talks with third-grade students from Farmin-Stidwell Elementary School who accompanied him on a short run in Sandpoint, Idaho, before he began a 2,200-mile, cross-country trek from the Canadian border to the Gulf of Mexico that he calls Project America Run Part II. Ehredt runs a daily marathon, leaving American flags bearing the names of those who served and died in Afghanistan for every mile he travels. Two years ago, he ran 4,400 miles from Oregon to Maine, honor those who died in Iraq.

SANDPOINT, Idaho (AP)

Mike Ehredt is big on second chances.

The 51 year-old Army veteran and retired postal worker from Hope, Idaho, appreciates that while things might be tough one day, tomorrow always offers a chance for improvement.

That philosophy goes a long way to explaining Project America Run Part II, in which Ehredt is paying homage to those who have paid the ultimate price.

Ehredt started running last week on the Canadian border in Minnesota and plans to run more than 2,200 miles south to the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way, he’ll stop every mile and plant an honorary flag for each of the men and women who have died in Afghanistan while serving their country. The journey’s motto is: One life. One flag. One mile.

Ehredt isn’t trying to make any statements or espouse any political messages either for or against the war; he’s simply honoring the soldiers with a personal tribute. It’s also his way of making the most of each extra day he’s given, realizing that many soldiers never get that chance.

“There’s ups and downs,” says Ehredt of life’s challenges. “But you’re always given that second chance for a great day and for things to be better.”

Ehredt is no stranger to pounding the pavement for stretches hard to fathom for the average person, let alone runners. In Project America Run Part I in 2010, he ran more than 4,400 miles from Oregon to Maine, honoring those killed while serving in Iraq.

He’s running 26 miles a day for 81 consecutive days, crossing through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and finally ending in Galveston, Texas, on Veterans Day.

Every flag Ehredt plants in the ground bears the name, rank, age and hometown of each fallen military member. He’ll stop every mile, plant the flag, offer a quick salute, then run the next mile and repeat the process, creating what he calls an invisible wall of honor.

For more than 11 consecutive weeks, he’ll bang out a marathon a day, spending each night with a predetermined host family and meeting a broad cross-section of Americans along the way.

“The culture of this country changes by the county,” says Ehredt, who will be near the end of his journey when the U.S. elects its next president. “I’m going to be in the deep South at election time.”

Ehredt’s running companion will be a stroller he affectionately calls “Lieutenant Dan,” which carries all of the flags and his personal items. Once the journey is done, Lieutenant Dan will get a proper – and wet – burial.

“That’s when the buggy wheel goes into the Gulf,” says Ehredt, explaining the reference to the movie “Forrest Gump.” “Lieutenant Dan didn’t have any legs, and neither does the jogging stroller.”

Suffice it to say, Ehredt is in top-notch shape, a prerequisite for the massive mileage he racks up in running shoes. The farthest he’s ever run at one time was 100 miles, and he recently finished 13th out of more than 120 competitors in the Mt. Hood 50-mile trail race in Oregon. Defying any conventional aging wisdom, he posted a personal-best time of 8 hours, 21 minutes, 28 seconds.

“My first 50 (-mile race) was 15 years ago, and I beat that time by an hour and 15 minutes,” says Ehredt. “Good things do happen when you turn 50, other than getting your AARP card.”

Mike Ehredt holds a bundle of flags bearing ribbons with the names of fallen service members he will commemorate. Enlarge photo

DAVID GUNTER/Bonner County (Idaho) Daily Bee

Mike Ehredt holds a bundle of flags bearing ribbons with the names of fallen service members he will commemorate.

Mike Ehredt places a flag to honor the death of a fallen service member, one of 2,200 he will leave at one-mile intervals across the U.S. Enlarge photo

DAVID GUNTER/Bonner County (Idaho) Daily Bee

Mike Ehredt places a flag to honor the death of a fallen service member, one of 2,200 he will leave at one-mile intervals across the U.S.

Mike Ehredt salutes after placing a flag honoring the memory of Army Sgt. Rachael L. Hugo in a planter. Enlarge photo

DAVID GUNTER/Bonner County (Idaho) Daily Bee

Mike Ehredt salutes after placing a flag honoring the memory of Army Sgt. Rachael L. Hugo in a planter.