Derek Moore, The Press Democrat, June 9, 2015
Having completed a four-day, 275-mile journey from Reno to Santa Rosa on a bicycle, a sweat-soaked Kevin Mincio stood over a gravesite that was graced Tuesday with tiny American flags and a ball cap with the words “USA” written on it.
His cellphone rang. Jesse Williams’ daughter, who was just shy of her first birthday when her dad was killed in 2007 during U.S. Army combat operations in Iraq, was calling to check in.
“Do you know how old your dad is today?” Mincio said of Williams, who would have turned 34 on Tuesday.
Mincio promised Williams that should he not return home, Mincio would look after Amaya, who is now 9. The bike ride to raise money for the Team Jesse Foundation, which Mincio helped start and now runs, represented another example of him keeping that vow.
Mincio and three other riders endured steep climbs, breathtaking downhills, traffic, temperatures above 100 degrees and on Tuesday, a stiff headwind, to complete the journey.
At the finish, at Santa Rosa Memorial Park Cemetery and Crematory, the weary riders were greeted by family members of three of the four servicemen for whom the ride was dedicated. They included Herb Williams, Jesse Williams’ dad, who briefly was overwhelmed with grief.
“For the people who say it gets better, they don’t know what the hell they are talking about,” said the well-known Santa Rosa political consultant. “It doesn’t get better.”
Jim Connolly, whose son, Ryan, also is buried at the cemetery, remarked on the selflessness of the cyclists.
“They keep the memories of the soldiers alive,” he said.
His son, a Piner High graduate, enlisted in the Army in 2005 and served with the 173rd Airborne Brigade. He had just been promoted to sergeant when he was killed by a roadside bomb in late June 2008 in the Nangarhar Province, near Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan.
Williams, a staff sergeant in the 2nd Infantry Division, was killed a year earlier, on April 8, 2007, during combat operations in Baqubah, Iraq.
Williams and Mincio, who met during basic training, formed a fast bond while fighting together in Iraq. The pair survived their first tour of duty to return home. Williams was killed after going back to Iraq.
Mincio, a former Wall Street banker who was inspired to join the Army after he witnessed the 9/11 attacks, helped start the Team Jesse Foundation to honor his late friend and keep the promise he made to take care of his daughter.
The $250,000 the foundation has raised to date goes directly to families of fallen soldiers, to nonprofit groups suggested by families and to camps offering outdoor experiences and support services for children of military personnel killed in action.
The Reno-to-Santa Rosa ride raised nearly $13,000. Herb Williams pitched in another $1,000 Tuesday.
He called the ongoing commitment of Mincio and others involved in keeping his son’s memory alive “amazing.”
The four-day journey was a relative breeze for Mincio compared with his epic 4,400-mile cycling trip from Santa Rosa to New York City in 2011 to honor Williams and raise awareness of the new foundation. The cross-country ride ended at ground zero, where Mincio reflected on watching the World Trade Center towers crumble in 2001.
Still, this year’s West Coast trek had its challenges. Mincio, who lives in Washington state, said he had no time to train for the ride. He chronicled a harrowing tire blowout while he was cruising at 40 mph.
In those moments, he calls upon the memory of his fallen friend to help him pull through. “Jesse made me a better person,” he said. “He’s kept me on course.”
You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @deadlinederek.