Never to be forgotten: Runner is covering mile for each soldier killed in Iraq War

Mike Ehredt salutes a flag placed in the ground at a mile marker along Highway 13 on Saturday morning outside of Meeker. In a personal tribute, he is running across the country, placing a flag at each mile marker for every U.S. soldier killed in Iraq.

Mike Ehredt salutes a flag placed in the ground at a mile marker along Highway 13 on Saturday morning outside of Meeker. In a personal tribute, he is running across the country, placing a flag at each mile marker for every U.S. soldier killed in Iraq.
MEEKER I One man. One mile. One flag. More than 4,400 fallen soldiers.
None will be forgotten.
Mike Ehredt’s run across the country — he’s covering one mile in honor of every U.S. soldier who has died in Iraq — took him through Meeker last weekend.
Ehredt, 49, started out from Oregon May 1 and he’s scheduled to finish around Oct. 7 in Maine.
“Every fatality will be covered until the final hour. They will all be accounted for,” Ehredt said Saturday during an off day. “The number of miles (on his path across the country) is very close to the number of fatalities. That’s why I focused on Iraq.”
As of Saturday, Ehredt had placed 1,585 American flags. He had 2,802 more to go. That was the number of deaths of U.S. soldiers in Iraq when he started out, he said.
“Being a prior service member,” Ehredt said, “you have a tremendous sense of honor to serve our country, and I wanted to honor those who served us in Iraq.”
All along the way, Ehredt stops at each mile marker along his route and places a flag, in honor of a U.S. soldier who died.
At each stop, Ehredt logs the information on his iPhone. Ehredt’s progress is then tracked on a website, where each flag’s location is marked.
“There was a special program written that contains every fatality in reverse numerical order, so the name matches the name on the flag,” Ehredt said. “Once (the flag) is placed, a GPS (global positioning system) gives it a location and sends it to the website.”
Asked why the names were in reverse order, Ehredt said, “It’s purely psychological … that maybe things are coming to an end.”
Ehredt avoided any suggestion of making a political statement out of his personal journey across the country. It’s simply his way of paying tribute to those who served and died, he said.
“It would taint the purity of what I’m doing (to make it political),” he said. “It’s always been a nonpolitical-type thing. It’s just my own personal mission.”
Ehredt, who retired from the U.S. Postal Service in November and is a military veteran — he spent four years in the U.S. Army — said the idea to do a run across the country began three years ago. He averages running 30 miles a day. His girlfriend accompanied him during his stayover in Meeker, but most of the time Ehredt is by himself.
“There are moments when there is nobody around. Somebody might walk or run a mile with me, but I’d say 99 percent of the time, I’m by myself,” he said. “It’s hard to describe. It’s almost spiritual.”
Since May 1, Ehredt has taken just two days off, when he didn’t run at all.
“Today was supposed to be a zero day, no miles,” Ehredt said Saturday, after he covered about five miles. “But it puts me five miles farther down the road.”
When he’s on the road, Ehredt runs most of the time — at a pace of about four mph — while also pushing a stroller that, when fully loaded, can weigh about 50 pounds.
“I only walk when I can’t run up,” he said. “And I do a short little walk when I’m getting ready to stop to put a flag down.”
Typically, Ehredt starts running by 7:30 in the morning and he’s usually done by 2:30 or 3 in the afternoon.
“The body adapts,” he said. “You just go on auto pilot. It’s mostly mental. But there’s certainly something or someone with me, helping me get down the road. Whenever I’ve asked for help, there’s always been help, spiritual, through those whose flags I’m placing.”
Liz Turner of Meeker was one of those people who walked a mile with Ehredt last Saturday. She found the experience moving.
“I was inspired because I think we all get busy with our day-to-day lives and enjoying our freedoms and forget about the men, women, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and friends who have given their lives so that we can get busy with our day-to-day lives and enjoying our freedoms,” Turner said. “It is easy for us to forget that there really are people in this world that want to harm America, her citizens and everything she stands for. Each one of Mike’s flags is a person who died for me and my family. I appreciate Mike honoring each and every soldier in a way that makes each one a person with a name. Not just a number or statistic.”
Ehredt will finish up in Maine, where an old Army roommate of his lives. In a full circle sort of way, it just happened that Ehredt’s Army roommate knew the soldier who died on the first day of the Iraq war and who will be the last soldier to have a flag placed in his honor.
“He used to babysit him when he was a kid, and now he will be the last flag placed,” he said.
Ehredt, who makes his home in Hope, Idaho, said he has had no negative experiences on the road. Hosts were lined up in advance, so he has a place to sleep at night and a meal at the end of the day.
“I rely on the hosts, who have been prearranged, to pick me up and drop me off and feed me,” he said. “Everything else is in the stroller, so I’m totally self-supportive.”
As he travels the country, Ehredt has been writing a blog and keeping a journal. He plans to write a book about his experiences when he’s done.
“That was always the intent to take the stories of real America, based on this journey, and interspersed with stories of some soldiers and throw it all together,” he said.
While Ehredt is doing the cross-country run to honor fallen soldiers, at the same time the experience has helped affirm his own belief in the nation.
“My faith in the country, it needs to be reinforced,” he said. “By going through rural America … that’s where you see the real America, out in the small towns.”
At the end of five months on the road — literally — Ehredt said it will feel strange when he reaches the last leg of his coast-to-coast trip.
“I can’t imagine,” he said. “One day you wake up and there’s the Atlantic (Ocean) and there’s one flag left.”
But what has kept him going has been the sacrifice of soldiers who died — and continue to die — in service of their country.
“There’s not a day I don’t wake up and I’m anxious to get on the road,” he said. “The road is forgiving, but time isn’t. It doesn’t stop … the clock is ticking.”
Like the yellow lines on the highway, each step all along the way — from one coast to the other — has had a purpose, he said, a higher meaning.
“Sometimes, when the days are long or I’m having a rough day … I see a whole line of service members,” Ehredt said. “Those behind are pushing me forward. Those ahead of me are pulling me. I know it sounds way out there, but it just takes me down the road.”
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To learn more about Ehredt’s Project America Run, visit www.projectamericarun.com.