Loved ones brave storm to honor fallen SEAL

Benefit tennis tournament not only raised $32,000 for widow and son as of Sunday, but also brought community together to remember his sacrifice.

August 29, 2011|By Imran Vittachi,

NEWPORT BEACH — Not even a hurricane could stop them.

A Navy SEAL's widow and mother-in-law were so determined to make the cross-country trip to Newport Beach in time for his benefit tournament that they drove some 300 miles — from Virginia Beach, Va., to Charlotte, N.C. — as Hurricane Irene churned northward.

Keri Mills of Virginia Beach, and her mother, Cindi Gore of Newport Beach, had to get to the Palisades Tennis Club in time to honor Special Warfare Chief Petty Officer Stephen Matthew "Matt" Mills.


They were told the approaching storm grounded their Saturday morning flight out of Norfolk, Va. — and that it likely wouldn't take off until 2:40 p.m. EDT Sunday. Furthermore, outbound flights from Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., had also been scrubbed.

So, overnight Saturday, the two — along with Cash, the Mills' 17-month-old son — drove south to the Charlotte airport. They ignored the warnings about the hazards of venturing out on the Eastern Seaboard roadways after Irene, which was later downgraded to a tropical storm, made landfall.

They faced trees toppling and winds of up to 75 mph, Gore said.

"It was the most reckless thing I've done," she said Sunday. "I've never seen anything like that before in my life. Trees were falling around us."

The three travelers got to the club on Jamboree Road in time for the noontime tournament. They were able to catch an early Sunday flight out of Charlotte, and they landed at John Wayne Airport at 10:30 a.m. Gore, a longtime member of the club, organized the tournament Matt Mills' memory.

The 35-year-old was one of 38 killed in the downing of a military helicopter in Afghanistan on Aug. 6.

Mills and 21 fellow SEALs who died alongside him belonged to SEAL Team 6.

Mills, a Texan, was stateside when Team 6 commandos killed Osama bin Laden in May, Gore said.

Mills, who never spoke about his missions, was sent on his 10th tour of Afghanistan in July, weeks after he and Keri Mills wed in Texas and honeymooned in Jamaica, Gore said.

"I am absolutely overwhelmed that I have this many friends — this is huge," said Gore, her voice cracking as she spoke about the more than 120 club members who had turned out to play in the hot August sun. All proceeds from the event, which also included a bake sale and silent auction, went to Keri and Cash Mills.

Keri Mills, 29, declined an interview request. She buried her husband at Arlington National Cemetery on Friday.

Daily Pilot Articles Daily Pilot Articles