By: Julia Deng
BIG SPRING - Two extraordinary people were brought together Thursday morning by NewsWest 9: Jesse Hernandez, the man behind the Warhawk "veterans truck," and Ernie Andrus, the 91-year-old World War II veteran running across coast-to-coast for a unique cause.
"[Hernandez] saw your program on TV," Andrus told NewsWest 9. "He called me and said, 'I want you to autograph my truck.'"
Hernandez, an Odessa resident whose grandfather fought in the Vietnam War, spent three months painting and embellishing his pick-up truck to closely resemble the P-40 Warhawk, a fighter and ground-attack aircraft known for flying in World War II.
"I've actually gotten salutes [and] thank you's, driving it around town," he said. "It really means a lot to [veterans] that someone shows appreciation for what they've done."
Hundreds of people throughout West Texas have reported seeing his one-of-a-kind "mobile memorial" on the road.
The "most special" part of the truck, for Hernandez, has nothing to do with the intricate details: the fake 50-caliber bullets on the wheels; the imitation bomb mounted in the back; the "JET FUEL ONLY" sign painted on the gas cap cover.
"What really makes this truck what it is are the signatures," he said.
Hernandez has spent the past month seeking out war veterans, asking them to autograph the hood of the truck and offering to drive to hundreds of miles to meet them wherever they may be.
"I'd love to go all over the states and see what veterans I can meet," he said.
Thursday morning, he met Ernie Andrus, 91, who began his cross-country run in October 2013 and hopes to reach the Atlantic Ocean before he turns 93 in August 2016.
"He was just great," Andrus said. "He drove out here in that truck and had me sign it. It's almost completed covered [with signatures]."
He took off down Highway 87 on the next leg of his run, after adding more American history to Hernandez's truck.
"If I maintain 18 miles a week, I can get [to the Atlantic Ocean] before my birthday in 2016," said Andrus.
Cindy Kleeman drove her two children from Odessa to run with Andrus in Big Spring.
"He showed up in my friend's RV park and she said, 'Hey, we need to check this out.' I started looking him up and I admire what he's doing, so we came to join him today."
Her friend, Vickie Herron, brought her two sons.
"They were very excited," she said. "They actually met Mr. Ernie before I did and came home telling me they wanted to run with him. My husband fought for our nation too [and] I'm honored to run with [Andrus]."
The next portion of his cross-country run will begin Saturday at 10 a.m. on Highway 87, near County Road 33.