Judge rules soldier's body to stay in Oklahoma

Pentagon policy decrees that says if a slain soldier is unmarried and has no children, the remains are given to the elder surviving parent.

US coffin flag 88 (photo credit: )
US coffin flag 88
(photo credit: )
A judge in a bitter dispute between divorced parents over where to bury a son killed in Iraq sided with the soldier's father, saying he did not believe the mother's tearful testimony. Army Staff Sgt. Jason Hendrix should remain buried in his father's home state of Oklahoma, despite his mother's claim that he wanted to be laid to rest in California, Superior Court Judge Robert B. Yonts Jr. ruled Tuesday. "May this brave soldier, Sergeant Jason Hendrix, rest in peace," Yonts said. The case focused attention on a little-known Pentagon policy that says if a slain soldier is unmarried and has no children - which was the case with Hendrix - the remains are given to the elder surviving parent. Hendrix's father, Russell Hendrix, is 48; his mother, Renee Amick, 45. Because Hendrix left no will, the only evidence of his desire to be buried in California was Amick's testimony that he told her so about a year before he died. That wish was not put in writing, and the judge did not believe the mother's story. "The testimony of the mother appeared forced and contrived. The tears were not genuine," the judge wrote. Amick took issue with the judge's characterization. She was barely able to fit in sentences between her sobs as she talked to reporters on the lush lawn in front of her house in the rural town of Freedom. "Obviously, Judge Yonts doesn't know what it's like to lose a son. ... I'm very proud of my son and all I wanted to do was carry out what he wished," she said, flanked by family members, including her husband and mother. "I think it's very appalling on the judge's part to even say the things he said because I think it's very disrespectful." Hendrix, 28, was killed by a roadside bomb Feb. 16 near the city of Ramadi. He was buried in April in a plot next to his paternal grandfather, a former Marine, after the Pentagon shipped the body to Oklahoma under its standing policy. Hendrix's parents divorced in 1991, and Russell Hendrix was awarded custody. Jason Hendrix grew up in Watsonville, California, with his mother but finished high school while living with his father in Oklahoma. According to court documents, Hendrix returned to California only to visit family. He also had an Oklahoma driver's license and listed Oklahoma as his state of residence, and there was evidence he planned to return to the state after leaving the Army, the judge said. Moving the body would serve no purpose, the judge said. "Jason's remains have already been dishonored by being held in cold storage for nearly six weeks between his death and burial. To further disturb the repose of the deceased would be emotionally upsetting for all members of the family," Yonts said. Omar James, lawyer for Russell Hendrix, said he and his client are optimistic the judge's decision will end the dispute. "I can't imagine what it's like for a mother to grieve for her son," James said. "It's just abhorrent that we had to go through this." Amick said she hasn't yet decided whether she would appeal. Two similar cases are pending in Nevada and Michigan.