VINCENNES, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — Jeff Reel was the first Indiana service member killed in Desert Storm. More than 32 years after the death, a special ceremony will take place Saturday October 28.
Jeff Reel grew up a middle child in the small Knox County town of Verne.
Described by his brother as a “wild man”, Jeff made a very serious decision in high school.
“Didn’t really have any aspirations to do anything else,” Jeff’s brother Fred Reel said.
“Once he talked to the Army recruiter then that’s what he wanted to do. He came home and told Mom and Dad, that’s it,” added Jeff’s sister April Strange.
Jeff joined the Army after graduating from South Knox High School in 1987. He’d already served a few years when the U.S. invaded Iraq. His siblings say Jeff then volunteered to go to Desert Storm.
“My Mom said, ‘I’m not watching the news. She goes I can’t do it and I told her, ‘that’s fine,” said April Strange as she teared up.
Fears for her son’s safety, were unfortunately, well founded. In 1991, Jeff became the first Hoosier soldier to die in the war.
“My mom and dad went through a rough time for a really long time. It was tough,” April Strange continued.
Strange said Jeff called home the night before his death, saying he’d received a promotion. But, since it was so close to the time of the crash that claimed his life, the promotion ceremony never happened, until now.
“We’re going to unveil the marker. We’re going to have a ceremony with the family. We’re going to have a 21 gun salute,” said Martin Quakenbush with Knox County Veterans Services.
Quakenbush helped Jeff’s family track down the promotion, so Jeff’s grave marker could be changed from Private Reel to Specialist. It’s an honor Quakenbush said is important.
“Specialist Reel gave the ultimate sacrifice,” said Quakenbush.
Fred and April said some of Jeff’s Army buddies will be coming to the ceremony.
“The chance to meet some of the guys he served with and some of the guys that were with him during his last moments of life that’s pretty exciting to me,” said Fred Reel.
“I love it that they’re gonna be here because we actually get to hear stories about our brother we didn’t know,” added April Strange.
Fred and April say they wish their parents were still alive to be part of this special ceremony for Jeff.
The ceremony Will take place Saturday, October 28, 2023 at Wildwood Cemetery in Vincennes.
If it rains, the ceremony will be at the Indiana Presbyterian Church next door to the cemetery at 2431 S. Lower Indiana Road. The ceremony is open to the public.