Oklahoma Army casualty remembered as friendly, outgoing

Monday, April 28th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Jerod Dennis' parents were worried when he decided to join the Army, but they knew it was important to him, so they supported his decision.

Now their worst fears have materialized.

The 19-year-old private, deployed from Fort Bragg, N.C., was fatally wounded Friday in a firefight with rebel fighters in eastern Afghanistan.

``It wasn't what I wanted him to do,'' his mother, Jane Dennis, said Monday in a telephone interview from her home in Antlers, a small town in far southeastern Oklahoma. ``I just wanted him to be safe. But it was so important to him, I supported him 100 percent.''

Dennis' father, Jerry Dennis, said he urged his son to really think through the decision to join the military, but didn't try to dissuade him.

``It was his decision,'' he said. ``He was committed. He wanted to do his part.''

Jerod Dennis decided to join the Army shortly before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

He was in basic training just a month after his May 2002 graduation from Antlers High School, where he was a standout tennis player and known for occasional classroom pranks.

He played doubles tennis and his team made it to the state championships twice.

His mother said he may also hold the school record for most paddlings from a principal.

``He got into trouble but it wasn't bad trouble,'' Jane Dennis said. ``It was just pranks and things like that.''

Dennis was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, based at Fort Bragg, N.C. By January he had been deployed overseas and he told his family he would be going to Afghanistan.

His parents worried, but he was excited.

``He was looking forward to it,'' his mother said. ``He wasn't the least bit fearful. He was just ready to do his job he'd been trained to do.''

``Things seemed like they'd settled down in Afghanistan,'' his father said, ``but I knew there was still danger.''

Jerod Dennis kept in touch with his parents by telephone and mail.

He would ask about family and friends, and want to know what was going on back home.

Father and son were close. They once had taken a four-wheel, all-terrain vehicle on a hunting trip, got it stuck and had to push and pull it more than a mile to get it home, encountering a hill and wet, swampy land on the way back.

Jerry Dennis recalled telling the young man that not all fathers and sons have similar experiences. Jerod Dennis, pulling the vehicle, replied:

``Yeah, Dad, we're really bonding now.''

On April 2, he spoke to his father for the last time. He said he was bored and looking forward to an upcoming mission near the Pakistani border.