After learning late Monday evening that her husband, Marine Master Sgt. Jeffrey Briar, would have funeral ceremonies conducted at Arlington National Ceremony in Virginia at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Jennifer Crowley jumped in her car and drove through the night from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, in hopes she'd be able to see him and say goodbye.
Briar, 43, a communications chief with Headquarters Battalion, Tactical Training Exercise Control Group, at Twentynine Palms, California, died Sept. 22, 2019, shortly after he and Crowley were married in a beach ceremony at Del Mar, California. Tragically, he was pulled out to sea on a rip current while swimming with Crowley's two teenage children and could not be saved.
Between a lengthy process to get a court hearing to recognize the marriage and claims by Briar's mother challenging its validity, Crowley has not been granted authority to carry out what she says are Briar's final wishes. After the Marine Corps received a copy of a court-issued marriage certificate over the weekend, plans to carry on with funeral honors were first paused, then allowed to continue, documents and message traffic show.
Crowley said her husband never wanted burial in Arlington; rather, she said, he wanted to be cremated and brought back to California.
"In the last 48 hours, I have received my marriage certificate; I have flown to North Carolina; I have been told I was the next of kin and going to be able to actually carry out my husband's wishes and what he wanted, and then told that I'm not," Crowley told Military.com early Tuesday morning. " ... I was told the full ceremony is happening today. I am not sure what is going to go from there."
Crowley’s older daughter and son-in-law, a Marine, live at Camp Lejeune; they’d planned to drive up to the funeral together when it was originally scheduled.
Crowley said she'd recently been told she wouldn't be able to participate in a viewing ahead of the ceremony.
Military.com reached out to Headquarters Marine Corps for clarity and comment but did not receive an immediate response. A military official with knowledge of the details of the case confirmed Crowley's account of recent events.
"Even up until the evening before the funeral when it got turned back on, she was in the dark and they made no accommodation to make sure she was available to attend, to get travel," the official said. "If she could make it, she could make it. The focus of the Marine Corps was on the ceremony."
The situation is complicated by the fact that the Marine Corps had to designate a Person Authorized to Direct Disposition, or PADD, at the time of death. In the absence of legal documentation of marriage, that authorization was given to Briar's father. Briar's mother, Debbie Robinson, has actively contested the marriage, as well as Crowley's account of what took place.
Robinson told Marine Corps Times in early October that a GoFundMe page set up by Paige Hare, one of Briar's stepchildren, was "fraudulent" and that Sept. 22 was the date of a "promise ceremony," not a wedding.
She also alleged the children who were caught with Briar in the rip current and ultimately rescued were not Crowley's.
Military.com reviewed a delayed certificate of marriage from the California Department of Public Health dated Nov. 8 that confirmed the Sept. 22 wedding date.
Other documentation showed late confirmation of plans to move ahead with funeral ceremonies at Arlington on Tuesday, after they were canceled Nov. 10 to allow for final decisions to be made. Tuesday's ceremony was set include funeral honors but not interment, according to the information.
The official who spoke with Military.com said exceptions could have been made to standard protocol to allow Crowley more time to get the documents she needed and to provide her more support in the interim.
Also unclear is the status of the survivor benefits to which Crowley, as a surviving spouse, would typically be entitled. Those benefits include health care coverage.
Crowley's efforts to see her husband's wishes fulfilled continue.
"I still want my husband back in California," she said. "He spent 16 of his 19 years at Camp Pendleton. So many of his fellow Marines and his friends and family are not able to pay their last respects to him."