Saturday, June 23, 2018
News Roundup

Eagle Scout project at Oldsmar park honors fallen warriors

OLDSMAR — The statue had been sitting in Johnny Ruckart's bedroom for 24 days, but now it rests at the entry to Veterans Memorial Park, where visitors can stop and remember their loved ones who are fallen warriors.

The bronze Fallen Soldier Battle Cross is made up of a pair of combat boots, a soldier's rifle and a helmet.

Johnny, 15, along with his father, John Ruckart, and several members of Boy Scout Troop 64, dodged rain Thursday while erecting the memorial on a platform at the park on Shore Drive. His Eagle Scout project included collecting donations to purchase the statue, building the permanent pedestal and laying the pavers that surround it.

During a ceremony today at the park, Johnny, a sophomore at Newpoint Pinellas High School, will officially dedicate the statue to the city of Oldsmar.

Johnny worked with Toni Gross of Oldsmar, whose son Army Cpl. Frank Gross was killed in Afghanistan in 2011, on the project and today's ceremony, which is the 2013 Gold Star Mother's and Families Day Observance.

Gross is president of the Tampa Gulf Coast North chapter of the American Gold Star Mothers, a service organization for families who have lost loved ones in war. It formed in the late 1920s, and historically, the last Sunday of September is celebrated as Gold Star Mother's Day.

The friendship between Gross and Johnny started about a year ago at another Gold Star program in Oldsmar, the Fallen Soldiers Remembrance Ceremony. Gov. Rick Scott attended that event, which was marred by a torrential downpour that caused the sound system for the ceremony to malfunction.

"Johnny's dad saved the day," Gross said. "He and Johnny were there with the Boy Scouts, and he just happened to have a megaphone in his car. We were able to read the names of the loved ones we had lost ... After that, Johnny introduced himself and told me he wanted to help get a statue in the park.''

Johnny said his decision to do the statue for his Eagle Scout project was based on his own family's experience with the military.

Both of his grandfathers, Cecil Ruckart and Timothy Sweeney, as well as his father served in the military. "And my dad and his dad's name are already in the park, on the wall (Wall of Heroes),'' Johnny said.

To purchase the statue, Johnny began going door-to-door in his Boy Scout uniform. "After a little while of going out and asking for donations, word got out and people started coming to us,'' he said.

The Knights of Columbus Espiritu Santo Assembly 2474 gave $540 and Lockheed Martin gave $500. And when Johnny contacted Roger and Lila Kumar, who live next door to the park and sold the land for the park to the city in 2003, they donated $1,000.

Once Johnny had enough donations — he eventually collected $5,000 for the project — Gross purchased the statue.

"I think it will be a beautiful addition to Veterans Memorial Park,'' Gross said. "Each piece of it has significance.''

When asked if he'll miss having the statue in his room, Johnny shrugged and talked about inspiration.

"I'll miss not seeing it in the middle of the night next to my bed. In the dark, my computer screen would cast a light on it, and seeing it like that would really make me feel good about the hard work,'' he said. "But it's good to see it here, knowing everyone will get to look at it.''

Piper Castillo can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4163. To write a letter to the editor, visit tampabay.com/letters.

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