ROCKLAND, Maine — The wind thrashed frothy waves against the shore here Friday as Mike Ehredt ran to the ocean, completing his 4,424-mile journey to honor U.S. service members who have died in Iraq.
Despite a thunderstorm that pelted rain on Ehredt, 49, and his supporters, more 100 people showed up in yellow shirts embossed with an American flag and the words, “Thanks, Mike.”
“It’s not raining today,” said James Troutt of Sherman, the grandfather of Army Spc. Dustin Harris of Patten, who died in April 2006 while serving in the war in Iraq. “God is crying a lot today.”
In a ceremony Friday morning, local police and government officials, members of the families of fallen Maine soldiers and Rockland residents gathered to celebrate Ehredt’s run. After each mile Ehredt ran in the past 5½ months, he planted a flag bearing the name of a soldier killed in Iraq. The project began in Oregon on May 1.
The retired U.S. Army veteran from Hope, Idaho, said he placed flags in lots of small towns across the country, with the goal of having people stop to remember the soldiers.
“We’re not alone. We are watched from above. I had guardian angels along the way,” Ehredt told the crowd at Friday’s ceremony, after the last flag was placed at Rockland Harbor. “They do know they are remembered. They are not forgotten.”The name on the final flag was that of Maj. Jay Thomas Aubin of Waterville, who was among the first casualties in the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Aubin, 36, was one of four U.S. Marines and eight British Marines killed on March 20, 2003, when a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter crashed in Kuwait near the Iraq border.
Also attending Friday were Bill and Carolyn Jackson of Owls Head, whose son Staff Sgt. William Samuel Jackson II, 29, of Thomaston was killed by an improvised explosive device in 2006. His job was to find and eliminate IEDs. Ehredt placed a flag for him in Colorado.
“For America, there is nothing more important than remembering those who died for our freedoms. It’s cliche, but it’s true,” Bill Jackson said.
“Our son loved Maine and loved the ocean, so this was very appropriate,” Carolyn Jackson said after standing in the wind-whipped rain.
The parents of Lee native Blair Emery, an Army sergeant who died in 2007 after an IED blast, were also in attendance. When the names were read of each of Maine’s fallen soldiers, Earl and Quie Emery — both clad in the yellow “Thanks, Mike” T-shirts — hugged each other.
“It means a lot for someone to do this,” Earl Emery said. “It is for all of them. For all of us. It’s a special thing.”
For more information about the run, visit www.projectamericarun.com.