Mike Ehredt's cross-country trek honors fallen in Iraq

Mike Ehredt, an Army veteran, is planting a flag a mile during a 4,000-plus mile run in honor of service members who have died in Iraq.

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After placing a flag dedicated to one of the 4,000-plus service members who have died in Iraq, U.S. Army veteran Mike Ehredt starts the climb up Nine Mile Hill west of Touchet. (May 11, 2010)

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One of the thousands of American flags Mike Ehredt will be placing across the country during his one-man odyssey to commemorate U.S. service deaths in Iraq. (May 11, 2010)

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At mile marker 311 east of Wallula Junction, U.S. Army veteran Mike Ehredt plants one more of the 4,000-plus flags he intends to place across the United States to commemorate U.S. service people who have died in Iraq. (May 11, 2010)

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TOUCHET -- As cars and trucks roared by behind him, Mike Ehredt planted a small American flag beside U.S. Highway 12 Tuesday.

Below the flag was a yellow ribbon bearing the name "Army Spc. Jeffrey Nichols, 21, Granite Shoals, Texas," one of the 4,000-plus U.S. service members who have died in Iraq in Operation Enduring Freedom.

Ehredt saluted the miniature memorial, then returned to the highway and began trotting towards the next mile marker.

One more down. Several more thousand to go.

A U.S. Army veteran, Ehredt is on a personal quest to commemorate U.S. service members who have fallen in Iraq by placing a chain of flags across the United States. He started in Astoria on May 1 and aims to finish in Rockland, Maine, later this year.

The 49-year-old Ehredt said he isn't promoting any agenda or political stance. "It's just a personal thing, to create a visible holding of hands across America," he said as he worked his way along Highway 12 toward McDonald Road. That's where he would be met by Bill Plucker, a local resident who was one of many lending support to Ehredt's project. After spending the night at Plucker's home, Ehredt would be off again today, continuing along Highway 12 toward Dayton.

An avid long-distance runner, Ehredt said he came up with the idea of a cross-country journey to salute U.S. sacrifices in Iraq about three years ago while living in Driggs, Idaho, where he worked as a postal clerk.

"I got to thinking about the Vietnam Wall and the Korean War Memorial. This was about 10 o'clock at night when the temperature was about 3 degrees above zero," he recalled with a smile.

Wally Thrall, an acquaintance who was a regular visitor to the post office helped work out plans for the trip. "Wally was basically the wagon and I'm the wheels," Ehredt said. In order to get support and find places to stay during the run, they spread word of the trek via e-mails, chamber of commerce newsletters, "friends of friends and then at the last month before I started, we just started calling people," he said.

As a result Ehredt said he's "got every night covered to Maine with people I didn't even know."

As he runs along the road, Ehredt pushes a small tricycle cart which holds his supplies and is mounted with a GPS, cell phone and beacon which updates his position every 10 minutes on a Web site dedicated to the run. During his travels, he's had many friendly interactions with folks encountered, including roadside vendors, construction workers and police officers.

"Once they see I'm not out here pushing my kid along, then they're OK with that," he said with a laugh.

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318. Check out his blog at blogs.ublabs.org/randomthoughts.

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