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A run to remember

After each mile of his journey, Mike Ehredt plants an American flag in honor of a U.S. soldier who lost their life in the Afghanistan War. Pictured, John Holland (left) and Mike Ehredt salute a flag placed along Highway 63 in memory of Army SSGT Michael Shank, 31, of Bonham, Texas. Ehredt and whoever is with him at the time salutes each flag that is placed.2 / 6
Mike Ehredt (left) paces himself along Highway 63 outside of Baldwin on Sept. 5. In the background, John Holland of Coon Rapids, Minn. rides along with Ehredt for several miles during his journey through St. Croix County.3 / 6
Mike Ehredt makes his way along Highway 63.4 / 6
One flag for each fallen soldier is planted after each mile of Ehredt's run.5 / 6
Each flag has the name of a fallen soldier attached to it. The location and the name are then linked on Google Earth so families can search for the location where their loved one is memorialized.6 / 6

Hot or cold, sunny or rainy, Mike Ehredt can be found running along America's byways.

The military veteran from Hope, Idaho is in the midst of his second "Project America Run," which first took him from coast to coast and now is taking him from the border of Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Ehredt passed through the heart of St. Croix County last week on his way toward Texas.

In 2010, Ehredt ran about 4,300 miles across the United States to honor those who died while serving in the U.S. military in the Iraq War. After each mile of his initial run, Ehredt planted a flag in honor of each war casualty. Each flag had the name of a soldier, hometown and rank attached to it and Ehredt saluted every time a flag was planted in the ground.

The location of each flag, and the corresponding name of the soldier it honored, was then placed on the "Project America Run" website with the necessary Google Earth coordinates. The Internet technology then allows family and friends of the fallen heroes to zero in on the location where the flag is posted.

This year, from Aug. 23 through Nov. 11, Ehredt will run about 2,500 miles from International Falls, Minn. to Galveston, Texas. He averages about a marathon per day during the journey.

While pushing a stroller filled with flags, Ehredt's route takes him through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

If all goes according to plan, Ehredt will appropriately arrive at his destination on Veterans Day.

Ehredt, age 51, came through the heart of St. Croix County on Aug. 5, running along Highway 63 from Clear Lake to Baldwin that day. He stayed in Baldwin overnight and shared a meal at the Baldwin American Legion Cave-Dahl Post #240 that night.

During a brief break in his run, Ehredt pointed out that his run has no political overtones. He is merely running to honor each soldier who has given the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

"Very simply, I do this just as a way to say thank you," he said. "There's no other message than that. Maybe if I lived somewhere else, in another country, I wouldn't be able to say thank you in this unique way."

Along the way, Ehredt will stay in motels or families who have been pre-arranged along the way. That is the only support he receives during his journey.

John Holland from Coon Rapids, Minn. is one relative of a fallen soldier who knows the power of what Ehredt is doing. During Ehredt's first run, a flag with the name of Holland's brother was planted along a Colorado road.

To thank and support Ehredt, Holland rode his bicycle alongside Ehredt when he ran through Iowa in 2010. He hooked up with Ehredt again in St. Croix County to ride along as well.

Local resident Jim Heebink heard about Ehredt's journey and was inspired to participate in a portion of the trek as well. He linked up with Ehredt and ran along for five or six miles from Four Corners (east of New Richmond). Heebink, also a veteran, said the experience was an emotional one for him.

"I really enjoyed the morning," he said. "I think he is the real deal."

Ehredt, a certified personal trainer, has been a competitive cyclist for years and running has always played a part of his fitness and endurance training. He eventually became an endurance runner, which led him to the "Project America Run" idea.

In 2006 he completed a 250 mile Trans-Himalayan run in Nepal. Twice he has finished in the top 150 at the Marathon des Sables, a six-day race across the Sahara.