Most days, something reminds Jane Nelson of her son.
She goes through times of the day when everything is fine, she said. Then she may see something in the news about the war in Afghanistan, or a soldier might walk into her flower shop. Then her grief, now nearly 10 years old, floods back.
“It hurts,” she said. “It just hurts all over again. It never stops hurting.”
Nelson's son, Army Pvt. Jerod Dennis, was the first Oklahoman killed in the war in Afghanistan. Dennis died in a gunfight near the eastern city of Shkin on April 25, 2003. He was 19.
Dennis was a member of the 3rd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, based at Fort Bragg, N.C. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2002, just a few months after the Sept. 11 attacks and before he graduated from Antlers High School.
About three weeks after graduation, Dennis left for basic training. In January 2003, his unit was deployed to Afghanistan. Nelson said she didn't want him to go, but she never seriously considered the possibility that he could be killed.
“I don't think I ever thought that he would not come home when he was over there,” she said. “You're never really prepared for that.”
Dennis called home on Easter, Nelson said. He couldn't tell her much about what his unit was doing, she said, but he did tell her that he was exercising. Nelson's voice still breaks when she thinks about the call.
“He had been working out a lot and working on his physique,” she said. “He couldn't wait for me to see him.”
But Dennis would never get that chance. Five days after his last conversation with his mother, Dennis was on patrol when his convoy drove into an ambush.
‘Definitely a hero'
In 2003, Dennis' father, Jerry Dennis, told The Oklahoman his son climbed into a foxhole and began to lay down suppressive fire so the convoy could pull out. Dennis was shot during the firefight.