About 9:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving eve, a stranger’s car pulled in front of a West Rivershore Drive home.

A man in uniform emerged from the vehicle and stepped into the dark night. He walked up to the door of the home of Deborah and Kirby Johnson.

It was the moment that Deborah knew her 25-year-old son, Staff Sgt. Aram J. Bass, was dead.

“That’s the way he wanted it to end,” Deborah said. “It came down to one last moment.”

Bass died Nov. 23 while engaged in a firefight in Baghdad. Department of Defense officials are investigating Bass’ death as a possible friendly fire incident.

He was a member of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division based in Fort Campbell, Ky. The Niagara Falls native and 1999 graduate of Niagara Catholic High School left in October for a scheduled one-year deployment in Iraq.

Deborah said she wasn’t surprised by the news of her son’s death. One of his commanding officers died only three weeks before, so she knew how close the hostility was to Aram.

“I’ve had a feeling since that Easter Sunday when he re-enlisted,” said Deborah, referring to when Bass signed up for the Army in 2004, after serving a commitment to the Marines he made right out of high school.

This past summer, when her son came back home for a three or four days, he spent time with some old friends. He called several that he hadn’t seen in years, and they all gathered at the annual St. John de LaSalle carnival.

The fact that her son purposely got in touch with all those people “makes it all the more strange” that he died on this mission, she said.

Bass dreamed of being in the Special Forces. Joining the 101st was the fast track to fulfilling that dream, Deborah said.

From the age of 8, he spoke of joining the military. A 20-foot by 40-foot military grade cargo net hung from his bedroom ceiling. He made his mother buy him an East German gas mask to add to his collection of military items and weapons.

And from the time he signed up for the Marines in high school before turning 18, to the time when he grew to a height of 6-foot 5-inches with a size 15 shoe, her son remained a quiet, unassuming and caring person.

He was a basketball and football player for Niagara-Wheatfield and Niagara Catholic.

During high school, he did what he had to do to pass, just because he knew he didn’t want to go to college but join the military.

“He wasn’t one of those kids who have to make this choice (to enter the military) or else,” his mom said. “This is what he wanted to do.”

Deborah remembers many ways she knew what her son wanted in life.

One was the spring before high school graduation in 1999, when Bass and some friends went to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for spring break. He came back home with his first tattoo. It was on his right arm — St. Michael, the patron saint of the Marine Corps.

The military has been part of Bass’ family — both of Bass’ grandfathers served, one in the Army and the other in the Navy.

Bass kept in close contact with family while in Iraq, which was made easier because he got to bring a laptop with him. The e-mails came once a week, but more so when his sister Jodi had her second child recently.

The brother and sister were very close, according to mom. “Aram was the love of her life,” Deborah said, of Jodi.

Bass has a large extended family, which also includes Johnson’s other son, Cameron Weingartner, who also lives in the area.

Bass’ stepfather, Kirby, said he couldn’t watch the television news for information on war casualties while Aram was gone.

Even so, harsh words were hardly exchanged with their son, Kirby said, and Aram knew they loved him.

“There isn’t anything that we haven’t said to him,” he said.

Her son’s death has not changed her support for the war, which doesn’t matter anyway, Deborah said.

“Whether I support it or not, and I do, it was what Aram wanted,” she said.

Calling her son a team player, whose No. 1 priority was the men of his unit, Deborah said her son also would have shunned the spotlight and attention he has received since his death.

“He wouldn’t like the fuss made over him,” Deborah said.

Bass’ body will receive final burial Dec. 19 in Arlington National Cemetery.

Family and friends will hold a wake and funeral service for Bass in the middle of this week at St. John de LaSalle. They are awaiting the return home of Bass’ best friend from high school, Lt. Shawn Carbone, who also is serving in Iraq.

Carbone will be traveling home thanks to a special order from President George W. Bush.

As the family makes its final preparations, Deborah said she’ll miss the little things, like having to make Aram a dozen pumpkin pies around Thanksgiving, her son’s dimples and his eyes.

“This was all about the bigger picture for him and doing the honorable thing,” Deborah said. “And we want him to be remembered that way.”

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