For the last three days, Mike Ehredt has been chugging up the southern shore of Lake Erie, with fewer than 900 miles to reach the end of his journey — a simple if unusual quest to run coast-to-coast, stopping every mile to honor a U.S. soldier who died in Iraq.
Ehredt, who lives in Hope, Idaho, began his roughly 4,500-mile traveling war memorial May 1 near Astoria, Ore., and expects to end in about three weeks when he reaches the Atlantic Ocean near Rockland, Maine. He has been placing a tiny flag for every soldier in reverse order of death — his last flag will be for the very first soldier to die in Iraq, Marine Maj. Thomas Aubin who, coincidentally, is from nearby Waterville, Maine.
Ehredt's journey across the back roads of America has been nearly invisible, yet deeply powerful for people he encounters. His most recent blog entry, told in his usual quiet style, searingly cuts through shallow talk of "heroes" and "honoring the troops." He spent the evening with a mother still grieving a soldier son who was hazed and harassed to the point of committing suicide in Iraq.
It is a difficult and unexpected story. Kieffer Wilhem's flag was among the very first that Ehredt saluted. According to data on his website, projectamericarun.com, Wilhem's flag was placed May 2 at the center of the Lewis and Clark Bridge, spanning the Columbia River between Washington and Oregon. It is one of the amazing happenstances of Ehredt's quest that more than four months later he would spend an evening with Wilhem's mother in an Ohio farm house, viewing the soldier's ashes, his boyhood pictures and the court reports detailing the torment of his final days.