A month ago Jesse D. Reed sent his dad a picture of a half dozen soldiers sitting in a hole a roadside bomb had blasted out of the earth in Afghanistan.
"We already lost several trucks," the Army specialist told his father, David Reed. "But don't worry, nobody was killed."
That was then.
Last week, Jesse Reed and three of his brothers-in-arms were killed when a bomb like the ones they were responsible for clearing exploded. The blast seriously injured Adam Keys, who graduated from Whitehall High School in 2002 with Reed. All five men were in one truck in a convoy, and Reed was driving.
Reed and Keys had been best friends since middle school, and their bond intensified as they joined the military, started families and served side by side. Reed even switched platoons to be with Keys, who was flown stateside on Wednesday and was in stable condition at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
Reed, 26, and Keys, 25, were in the 618th Engineer Support Company, 27th Engineer Battalion (Combat Airborne), based at Fort Bragg, N.C. That day they were searching for roadside bombs.
"They shared the same vehicle. They shared the same room. They were the same person almost. They shared their lives together. They went to battle together," said Kristy Marter, whose husband, Damian, was two trucks behind Reed and Keys' vehicle in the six-truck convoy on July 14.
Marter quit her job in Fort Bragg, where the three families lived practically as one, and rushed to Whitehall Township last week to support the Reed and Keys families. Jesse Reed's widow, Heather, is expecting their second son, Jesse David Reed Jr., in August.
The Marters embraced their military brothers and sisters as family. Kristy's kids call Adam "Uncle Keys."
"That's the Army way of life," she said. "You take them in and you help them adapt to the Army way of life. You help them get to where they [need to] be so they can deploy."
Their lives were filled with barbecues, game nights, creekside picnics, fishing trips to Myrtle Beach, S.C. — any excuse to be together.
"It might sound funny, but we had family reunions every week," Marter said.
The lifestyle came naturally to Heather Reed, who supported her husband's dedication to service from the start, even though his enlistment was a surprise.
"I kind of joined the Army," she recalled him saying over dinner at an Olive Garden. "Are you mad?"
"No, why would I be mad?" she said. "That's what you want to do, let's go. I'm behind you 100 percent."
She followed him to North Carolina and a few days later they learned she was pregnant. When Dylan Dominick, now 9 1/2 months old, was born in late September, Reed joked: "I'm going to get you pregnant before I leave [on deployment]." Jesse Reed was also stepfather to 5 1/2-year-old Brianna.
On Christmas night, she woke him to say he got his wish.
"He just smiled and hugged me and held me and was so happy," she said. "My husband, my children, I couldn't ask for anything more."
Heather is determined to keep Jesse's memory alive for their children. What will she tell their sons? "Your daddy was a hero."
Kristy Marter is breaking the news to her children — ages 11 months, 5 and 8 — little by little. "All you can tell them is they had to go to heaven," she said. "These guys gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country, and that's how they need to be remembered."
That's what Jesse's stepsister, Sharon Siniscalco of Phillipsburg, will tell the Girl Scouts who pressed their handprints to a bedsheet in May and sent it to his unit. She is one of hundreds who gather yearly at Alpha Firehouse to pack care packages in shoeboxes for the troops.
Next year's Operation Shoebox event will be dedicated to Jesse Reed and the three other soldiers killed by the roadside bomb.
Services for Reed are set for Thursday and Friday. A memorial service to honor all four soldiers will take place at Fort Bragg on July 30.
David Reed of Lopatcong Township said his son, who called him every week to 10 days, planned to re-enlist early and wanted to attend Army Airborne School. Though only 5 feet 8 inches tall, Jesse Reed won an ironman contest with his fellow soldiers.
Despite the horror of his death, Siniscalco felt a sense of calm Friday at Dover Air Force Base, Del., when she and her stepfather saw the return of Jesse's body from Germany.
The military handled the occasion with "phenomenal care," David Reed said, but nothing could blunt the reality of losing his son.
"The best explanation I can give you," he said, "is it's hell on earth to see your kid in a box."
Reed funeral planned
Funeral arrangements for Army Spc. Jesse D. Reed are being handled by Schisler Funeral Home at 2119 Washington Ave., Northampton.
The Reed family will receive friends from 7-9 p.m. Thursday and 10-11 a.m. Friday at the funeral home, followed by an 11 a.m. service there.
Burial with military honors will be at Cedar Hill Memorial Park, 1700 Airport Road in Hanover Township, Lehigh County.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made in his memory to the funeral home. Online condolences may be offered to the family at http://www.schislerfuneralhomes.comCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun