After traveling from Bakersfield's Wall of Valor to the Vietnam Wall Memorial in Washington, D.C., Wesley Barrientos and Jeremy Staat will return to Bakersfield Saturday morning. The two successfully completed their Wall to Wall bike ride this Memorial Day.
We showed you their departure and their completion, but we talked to Wesley and Jeremy about all of the miles in between and what it took to carry them to the finish line.
On February 19th, Iraq War veterans Wesley Barrientos and Jeremy Staat saddled up and set out on their cross country journey. They were met with cheers then, and again, applauded at the completion of their mission at the Vietnam Memorial Wall.
"It's probably going to take a week for all of it to sink in, but mission accomplished," said Staat as he touched the Vietnam Memorial Wall. "And, we couldn't have done it without Kern County and all of our supporters across the country."
In those 100 days, there were thousands of miles, and each mile is a memory these two men will never forget. Some are good, and some are not so good like the two crashes Wesley endured, ultimately dislocating his shoulder so he could no longer hand crank his bike.
"I had road rash all over the left side of my body. I banged up my head real good," recounted Wesley.
While Wesley continued on with the crew, Jeremy faced his own obstacles on the road.
"I used to have a C.B. in my ear so I could talk to the safety column and I'd pick up trucker talk every once and a while," Jeremy told us. "And, the way the truckers are talking, I was like oh my God. What country do you guys live in? We're riding for veterans and here you are bad mouthing us for being on the shoulder, which most of the highways we were on were memorial highways or Purple Heart trails and here we are getting yelled at telling us get off the roads."
Gaining that respect for the country's veterans is why these two headed out on their cross country mission. They want to spread what they've recognized as mounting issues our military men and women face, like the suicide rate for veterans.
That has now climbed to 18 a day, adding veteran education centers to college campuses, and shining the light on the problem of childhood obesity.
"That's actually a threat to our National Defense because we have a 100% voluntary military and if we don't have the youth that can pass the physical fitness test then we're not getting the creme de la creme of our military force there," explained Jeremy.
Wesley and Jeremy stopped at military bases along their way, talking to veterans. As inspiring as Wesley and Jeremy are to them, the veterans' stories powered the pair to push on with personal stories. One they remember vividly was from a veteran at a veteran's home in Laughlin, Nevada.
"There was a gentleman there that had been there for a long time. And, he said in his seven years there, that we were the best thing that had ever happened and that just meant the world," remembered Wesley.
There were mementos too, things handed to them from people from across the country, asking Wesley and Jeremy to place them at the Vietnam Memorial Wall on the last day of their journey. And, they did.
"These flags were actually just given to us across the country. A lady in Amarillo, Texas actually gave them to us and there's a hundred of them. She said she wouldn't be able to make the trip, but she wondered if we would take them with us and we said absolutely," Jeremy tells us.
"I have a patch from a gentleman. His name is Smiley Gonzales and he was a combat medic for the 173rd Airborne during Vietnam. And, when we were leaving he gave me a 173rd Airborne patch to drop off at the wall," Wesley explained.
That was the first day in Bakersfield, and on the last Wesley carried that patch and a Purple Heart coin to the wall. And, the dozens of flags made it too. Both men looked at the names on each of the flags, a life written on each one. And, in the glare of the hot sun they searched and placed each flag by the matching name etched on the wall honoring those who sacrificed their lives.
As Jeremy found the home for his final flag, Wesley walked to the center of the wall. His last mission on this cross country ride is to lay the patch he carried from Bakersfield, leaving part of their journey behind, ending this part of the mission, but never ending the fight to help those who keep us free.
"Me going to the wall, it's not about me, it's about them. It's about all of our veterans. That's what's been going through my head the whole time," Wesley explained.
"It was all worth it for our veterans. Our veterans have given us everything that we have today and what a way to honor them to say thank you to them for their sacrifices and humiliation they had to endure," said Jeremy.
What's next for them? Jeremy and Wesley will both keep trying to raise awareness through The Jeremy Staat Foundation. In the meantime, Jeremy is going to be a dad in August and Wesley is going to school at the University of Southern California to study occupational therapy, to help everyone facing a disability.