After nearly three years, about 2,600 miles and gaining thousands of fans, 93-year-old Ernie Andrus has reached the Atlantic Ocean.
The World War II veteran, who celebrated his birthday Friday, planted his feet along Georgia’s coast Saturday following a cross-country trek that began in San Diego in October 2013.
According to WTOC News, he is the oldest man to have ever completed such a mission.
“This was great. A lot of mixed emotions because I hate to see it end. I was having so much fun, but I was so glad to put my foot in that ocean and know I made it,” he told the local news station on Saint Simons Island, where a massive crowd gathered to greet him.
In the audience, fans waved American flags and cheered him on, some wearing T-shirts reading “Run, Ernie, Run” in a likely cheeky nod to the Hollywood veteran Forrest Gump, who made a similar trek in the Academy Award-winning film.
“This is probably the biggest crowd,” he remarked while addressing his fans. He noted that at one time he had around 2,000 people following him in Louisiana.
“Thank you for your service, Ernie!” supporter Joe Taylor called to him from the crowd, The Brunswick News reported. “You’re an American hero!”
Each week, the determined veteran completed a half-marathon to a marathon worth of steps in an effort to raise funds for and bring attention to a WWII-era Landing Ship-Tank (LST).
The LST 325, which Andrus sailed on, was commissioned in the invasion of Sicily and Salerno in 1943 as well as the invasion of Normandy in 1944, according to a website for Evansville, Indiana, where the ship is currently docked.
“Landing Ship Tanks, or LSTs, were extremely critical during World War II to major European invasions and island-hopping campaigns in the Pacific,” the website reads.
Today, the LST 325 is the only fully operational and restored LST in existence. Because of that, Andrus hopes to stretch its sea legs once more while bringing it back to Normandy for 2019’s D-Day Memorial Service.
The feat is expected to cost millions. But at this point, what isn’t possible for Andrus?
At his ceremony Saturday, he said he plans to return to California and buy some land that will allow him to continue running — “at least to keep in shape,” he said to applause.
Though his feet have stopped moving, his fundraising efforts remain ongoing. Donations to aid Andrus’ mission can be made through his website and ones toward the ship’s preservation through the LST 325’s memorial page.