Kevin Mincio spent 95 days bicycling across America in honor of his Army buddy, Staff Sgt. Jesse Williams of Santa Rosa, who was killed in 2007 in the war in Iraq.
It took Mincio less than five minutes Sunday to rumble across Williams' hometown on the back of a Harley-Davidson to watch the California premiere of the documentary film about the two men.
"Obviously, this is a very special place," said Mincio, 41, of Mercer Island, Wash., after taking the short trip from the Veterans Memorial Monument at City Hall to the Glaser Center. "It's Jesse's home and where the ride started."
Mincio was among the two dozen people, including Williams' widow and father, who attended an afternoon showing of "The Long Ride Home," which chronicles his wartime friendship and his cross-country trek from Santa Rosa to Ground Zero in New York City.
Viewers laughed and cried in the darkened theater as Williams' friends recounted the cut-up they knew as "Soupbone" and listened to the chilling video recording he made in the event of his death.
Staring into the camera, Williams urges whoever is listening to help care for his then-infant daughter, Amaya, and to make sure she remembers him.
"I love you very much," Williams said on the video. "I'm sorry that I'm dead. Goodbye."
They were tough words to hear for Williams' father, Santa Rosa political consultant Herb Williams, who sat in front of the big screen with his daughter-in-law, Sonya.
"I have difficulty listening to my son talking," said the father, maintaining his composure. "I still miss him."
Mincio, a former Wall Street banker who joined the Army after witnessing the Sept. 11 attacks, met Williams in 2002 during basic infantry training.
They were shipped to Iraq, where they fought beside each other and dodged roadside bombs, losing friends along the way.
They made it home safely, but Williams was killed by a sniper when he returned to Iraq the following year.
Williams wasn't the only casualty in the group. Another friend, Steve Camposan, suffered post-traumatic stress disorder that he didn't know he had until he was walking across a Montana college campus months later.
He talked about it in a nine-minute segment that will become part of a separate plea to officials to help veterans, said the film's director, Tom Wright.
Mincio said the bike ride is a tribute to his friend but also is part of a greater effort to help families of fallen soldiers nationwide.
He created the nonprofit Team Jesse Foundation and set out on the 4,400-mile cycling trip to coincide with the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
He kept to a grueling schedule, enduring desert heat and mountainous terrain. He arrived at Ground Zero and stood at the spot where he saw the World Trade Center Towers crumble in 2001.
He's since raised funds to provide support and education to 15 families, and will add another 30 families next year, he said.
"It wasn't so much the ride itself but the significance of it," Mincio said.
You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or email@example.com.
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