STERLING – If you don’t recognize the names of Sgt. Jessica Housby of Rock Island, 1st Lt. Derwin Williams of Glenwood, or Sgt. Chester Hosford of Ottawa, there’s an organization that wants to introduce you to their stories and the sacrifices these guardsmen made for their country.
Housby was attached to the 1644th Transportation Company in Rock Falls. Williams, 41, and Hosford, 35, were with the 106th Cavalry based in Dixon.
The three, all killed in action, are among 34 Illinois National Guard guardsmen that Gold Star Mission wants to honor in its annual 500-mile bicycle run on Sept. 27, which this year will make 20-minute stops in Prophetstown, Rock Falls, Dixon, Oregon and Byron.
A Gold Star Family is the immediate family members of a fallen serviceman or woman killed while serving in a time of conflict.
The nonprofit was established in Springfield in 2017 to provide scholarships to the children of National Guard members killed while on duty.
This year, it changed its philosophy to include the families of all service members from Illinois who’ve been lost since 9/11.
Each year it chooses a specific geographical region in the state to hold the endurance ride, and this is the first time riders will pass through the Sauk Valley area, ride director Eric Murray said.
What drove the change was passing through other communities and meeting Gold Star families from those towns who requested their loved ones also have someone ride in their honor.
“You can’t say no,” Murray said. “That’s why we expanded the organization to ride for all.”
In his first year of volunteering, Murray found that what was most exhausting was speaking to surviving Gold Star relatives and learning their stories.
“Mentally, it just whips you,” he said.
“Their whole lives changed. Nobody knew how to take care of them or help them. They just kind of fell into the back of their communities, and we’re trying to bring them back out. These families are still going through the grieving process.”
So far, Gold Star Mission has raised $68,000 for scholarships, and Murray said he hopes to award another 60 this year.
Most of this year’s 32 riders are active military, veterans or know someone who’s being honored during the ride, Murray said.
The ride isn’t easy – cyclists ride from dawn to dusk, around 140 miles a day, and sleep in cots set up in armories along the way.
The fourth day of the trip, when the riders are scheduled to pass through the area, is “a very critical day” because they must make 130 miles, Murray said.
Rock Falls Mayor Bill Wescott is glad to play host to the mission and its riders, and he invites local Gold Star families to attend lunch that day at Immanuel Lutheran Church at 502 Eighth Ave.
“I also am fortunate to have a very caring church,” Wescott said. “This is what we’re supposed to do, and this is part of our family’s goals and mission. We’re looking forward to having them in Rock Falls.
“It’s a good way for their families to know they’re not lost and forgotten and not left behind. It just helps keep alive the memories of that individual,” Wescott said.
“It’s also just as important for us to spread the word on how important military and military families have been to the stature of this country.”
Meet the riders
Gold Star Mission's estimated 20-minute stops on Sept. 27, Day 4 of its 500-mile ride:
Prophetstown: 9:13 to 9:33 a.m. at Coloma Park District, 410 Riverside Drive.
Rock Falls: 10:35 to 11:20 a.m. at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 501 Eighth Ave.
Dixon: 12:16 to 12:36 p.m. at Dixon National Guard Armory, 412 W. Everett St.
Oregon: 1:44 to 2:04 p.m. at VFW Post 8739, 1310 W. Washington St.
Byron: 2:45 to 3:05 p.m. at Byron Fire Protection District, 123 S. Franklin St.
Go to www.goldstarmission.org to donate or for more information.
Read their stories
Go to goldstarmission.org/housby/ ; goldstarmission.org/williamsderwin/ ; or goldstarmission.org/hosford/ to learn about the sacrifices of Sgt. Jessica Housby of Rock Island, 1st Lt. Derwin Williams of Glenwood, or Sgt. Chester Hosford of Ottawa.