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Army Staff Sgt. Jason R. Hendrix

Died February 16, 2005 Serving During Operation Iraqi Freedom

28, of Claremore, Okla.; assigned to the 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, Camp Hovey, Korea; killed Feb.16 when an explosion occurred while he was conducting combat operations in Ramadi, Iraq.

Fallen soldier laid to rest in California

By Shaun Schafer

Associated Press

CLAREMORE, Okla. — Remembering Jason Hendrix the bodybuilder, the man who loved to hunt, who cared about his family and loved his country, dominated the comments and the images shared at the slain soldier’s funeral service Saturday.

“He was a wonderful, wonderful boy,” said his aunt, Onetta Webster, as she walked from his grave site. “He loved it around here.”

For a few hours at least, Hendrix’s life mattered more than the circumstances after his death. A final resting place for Hendrix, a California native who was killed while serving in Iraq on Feb. 16, caused a family feud to turn into a court battle. The legal spat between divorced parents was resolved last month.

At Rice Funeral Service in Claremore and at the graveside at Calvary Cemetery in Tulsa, family members talked about the man who grew from a towheaded boy to a muscle-bound staff sergeant in the Army.

“He was a young man to be admired,” said Rosetta Jensen, Hendrix’s great-aunt. “He didn’t die for one person, he died for all of us.”

Hendrix, 28, lived most of his life in California. He spent the last two years of high school living with his father in Claremore. After graduating from Claremore Sequoyah, he joined the Army, serving two tours in South Korea during his 11-year career.

“He loved to go hunting with his father,” Webster said. “They would always get a deer.”

When visiting relatives, Hendrix would talk about returning to the state and possibly joining the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, Webster said.

Whether Oklahoma was his planned destination when Hendrix was killed during a roadside attack in Ramadi, Iraq, required a court decision. Each parent filed court motions in February to determine who would get custody of his remains, and the dispute raised concerns about next-of-kin policies and funeral planning for military personnel.

The Army sent Hendrix’s body to the central California town where he was born and his mother, Renee Amick, and stepfather live. The remains arrived Feb. 24 at Mehl’s Colonial Chapel in Watsonville, Calif.

The next day, Hendrix’s father, an airline mechanic at Tulsa International Airport who divorced Amick 14 years ago, appealed and asked to have his son’s body shipped to Claremore. Russell Hendrix has lived in Oklahoma since the late 1980s and wanted his son buried next to his grandfather, a former Marine.

Based on a policy that grants the remains of military personnel to the eldest surviving parent, the Defense Department reversed its decision and planned to ship the body from California to Oklahoma — until Amick filed a temporary restraining order to keep the body in California.

In March, Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge Robert Yonts dissolved the restraining order and granted custody of the body to Russell Hendrix. Yonts said he “respected” the Army’s decision and would abide by the military’s next-of-kin policy.

According to Defense Department rules, spouses of slain service members have first claim to the remains. If the victim was not married, the body goes to natural and adopted children who are over 18 in age order.

If the victim had no children, remains go to parents in order of seniority, unless one parent was granted sole legal custody “by reason of a court decree or statutory provision.”

Jason Hendrix was not married and had no children. Amick, 45, had custody immediately following the parents’ separation in 1989, but Russell Hendrix, 48, won custody in the final divorce decree of 1991.

Sharon Cole Jones, an attorney for Russell Hendrix, said Saturday the most important lesson from the post-mortem struggle was for the need to make final wishes clear.

“This was where he wanted to return,” she said.

In Claremore, friends and relatives filled the chapel to hear Lt. Col. Greg Borden talk about the difference Jason Hendrix made. Borden, a chaplain stationed at Fort Carson, Colo., spoke of memories and the value of Hendrix’s sacrifice.

“His life made a difference, even to people who never knew him,” Hendrix said. “Because of what he did, Iraqis will experience some freedom that they never would have known.”

After a reading of Hendrix’s awards, which included a Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Meritorious Service Medal, 16 soldiers in attendance paid final respects. One by one, soldiers, most clad in dress uniform, stood up, marched before the casket and saluted.

The nearly 40-vehicle procession that followed Hendrix’s remains on the 31-mile drive to the cemetery stopped traffic along the route.

Hendrix received burial with full military honors, including the playing of “Taps” and a 21-gun salute. A group of about a dozen Vietnam veterans looked on as the serviceman was laid to rest.

* * * * *

Mother of slain soldier appeals ruling that body stays in Oklahoma

Associated Press

WATSONVILLE, Calif. — A mother who lost a lawsuit seeking to exhume the body of her dead soldier son and have it moved it to his hometown in California is appealing the judge’s decision.

Renne Amick filed the appeal on Dec. 29 in the 6th Appellate District in San Jose challenging the lower court’s ruling that prevented the body of Army Staff Sgt. Jason Hendrix from being moved from his father’s home state of Oklahoma.

A telephone call to the Berlinger Cohen law firm, which is handling the case, was not immediately returned Thursday.

The bitter dispute between divorced parents highlighted a little-known Defense Department rule that if a slain soldier is unmarried and has no children — which was the case with Hendrix — custody is granted to the elder surviving parent.

The debate began shortly after Hendrix, 28, was killed by a roadside bomb Feb. 16 near the Iraqi city of Ramadi.

The Army initially turned the remains over to Amick, then reversed the decision and awarded them to the father, Russell Hendrix, who is three years older than his former wife.

Hendrix’s body was buried in April in Tulsa, Okla., next to his paternal grandfather, a former Marine.

A Santa Cruz County Superior Court judge ruled in November that Hendrix’s body should remain in Oklahoma, where he lived with his father before joining the Army, rather than in Watsonville, where he grew up and his mother said he wanted to be buried.

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