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A decade later, Antlers soldier's death leaves a void that can't be filled

Army Pvt. Jerod Dennis, of Antlers, 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.
BY SILAS ALLEN sallen@opubco.com Published: March 25, 2013
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“He was doing what he was trained to do,” Jerry Dennis said. “The way they explained it to me, he was very definitely a hero.”

During Dennis' funeral service at First Baptist Church in Antlers, Army Brig. Gen. Abe Turner said the soldier had asked about his comrades even as he was dying in a hospital bed. Addressing the casket, Turner said the nation owes Dennis a debt of gratitude.

“We will remember you,” he said. “We will honor you, and you will always be a hero.”

A decade later, Dennis' family has seen changes. Nelson's other two children, Dennis' brother and sister, have gone off to college. Nelson, who was single when Dennis died, remarried and moved to Midlothian, Texas, in the southern outskirts of the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

About two years ago, Nelson and her husband bought a flower and gift shop in Midlothian. Now and then, a soldier walks into the shop. Sometimes Nelson tells them about her son — who he was, why he joined the Army and how he died. Telling people about how Dennis died helps remind her that his death wasn't in vain, she said.

“It wasn't for nothing,” she said. “That helps.”

‘Hole in the family'

It's hard to say exactly how Dennis' death changed the family, Nelson said. She and her other two children grew closer after his death, although Nelson said she likes to think they would have been close anyway.

Nelson said she can't remember exactly how she talked about Dennis' death with her family in the days after it happened. Her other two children were younger at the time, and she thinks they might have been more resilient because of it. But even when she talks to them today, she said, there's still an obvious void.

“It's left a hole in our family,” Nelson said. “There's nothing that can ever fill that hole again.”


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