Joanne Reese: Nothing more to learn

December 17, 2004

   ELIDA — The mother of an Elida native who drowned while patrolling last year in Iraq says she doesn’t understand what good can come from looking again into his death.    Joanne Reese said Thursday that her family knew all it needed to know about the death of Staff Sgt. Aaron Todd Reese, 31. No one ever will know exactly what happened, so U.S. Rep. Bob Ney’s request that the Army look into the deaths of Reese and Spc. Todd Bates won’t turn up new information, Mrs. Reese said.    “There’s only three people (who were on the boat) and two of them are gone,” Reese said, responding to two days’ worth of stories about Ney’s request. “The Iraqi driver had only been driving the boat less than 30 days. They told us his story had changed 10, 15 times.”    Staff Sgt. Reese fell off a patrol boat into the Tigris River on Dec. 10, 2003. Bates jumped into the water to rescue him, but both men drowned. Reese, a 1990 graduate of Elida High School who lived in Reynoldsburg, had written that soldiers often slipped on the boats, which he called small, Mrs. Reese said.    William Lee, a retired lieutenant who served with the two men, said this week that U.S. soldiers were patrolling on Iraqi boats with Iraqi drivers. Conflicting stories have arisen as to whether the boat on which Reese and Bates were patrolling had safety equipment such as life jackets and safety poles.    “I don’t see how they could say it. They weren’t there,” Mrs. Reese said. “God’s the only one who knows what happened.”    Reese e-mailed his wife the same day that he drowned, telling her he had been out once on patrol. The mission of those on the boats was to draw fire from Iraqi insurgents in order to spot them for U.S. attack helicopters. Reese wrote that another soldier didn’t want to go on patrol, so he was going out on a second patrol. “I wouldn’t expect anything less from him. That was his way,” Mrs. Reese said.    She said she was told there were two patrol boats, but the lead boat stalled, so her son’s boat went on toward the green zone in Baghdad.    The Army told the family that Reese drowned. The missions stopped after her son’s and Bates’ death, Mrs. Reese said. A day or two after the deaths, her husband, Ed, sent an e-mail to President Bush about the lack of safety equipment, something their son told his family about. Mr. Reese received no reply.    Mr. Reese could not be contacted for comment.    A soldier told the Bates family about lack of safety equipment. Bates’ family then contacted Ney, R-St. Clairsville, leading to his request. Ney said he wants to reinforce the importance of using safety equipment or to make sure no one else serves without having such equipment. Rep. Mike Oxley, R-Findlay, sent a letter Wednesday to the Army supporting Ney’s request.    Reese said Sen. Mike DeWine and a representative of Gov. Bob Taft both attended her son’s funeral. DeWine was the second person in line, she remembered.    The news stories the last two days have been rough to take, Mrs. Reese said. The holiday season already would be tough without the added reminder of her son’s death. In fact, the last two months already were filled with special dates, good and bad.    Her brother died Nov. 6, 1967, in Vietnam. A nephew was born in late November. Both of her grandchildren were born in December, and her son and his wife would have celebrated their anniversary Dec. 2.    “I’m proud of my son no matter how he died,” Mrs. Reese said. “I’m proud of him. He wasn’t a coward. He knew what he was doing. He loved his soldiers, he loved his family, no doubt about it.”