OLDSMAR — The mayor presented the grieving parents of a local hero with a one-of-a-kind award on Tuesday.
On behalf of the community, Oldsmar Mayor Jim Ronecker invited Toni and Craig Gross to City Hall to receive the city's Patriot Award, created just for them.
The Grosses lost their son, Army Cpl. Frank Gross, on July 16, less than three weeks after he was deployed to Afghanistan. The 25-year-old soldier was killed after an improvised explosive device caused his vehicle to roll over.
"Our hearts deeply sympathize with you and we greatly respect the commitment, the honor and the valor your son has given us for our freedoms," Ronecker told them before presenting the plaque, adorned with an eagle and an American flag. "My heart breaks with yours."
Toni Gross said she and her husband were blessed to have 25 years with Frank, whose "honesty was brutal" and whose "values ran deep."
"Frank fulfilled all of the qualifications that make up a good son," she said. "There was no challenge too difficult for him. He believed he could accomplish anything he put his hand to do."
She shared her son's strong faith, saying that every night when he went to bed at home, even on his final leave before deployment, he asked his family to pray with him and for him.
"We cherish the memory of those special, sacred times," she said.
Now, she said, her son is "serving his final, forever mission."
The Grosses also thanked city officials and other community members who paid their respects and neighbors who flooded their neighborhood with American flags.
"We are so thankful for this community. God bless you," said Craig Gross, who presented the city with a photo of his son, taken at basic combat training graduation in July 2010.
The mayor said they'd like to hang it in the new City Council chambers.
Officials say such a loss is unusual in Oldsmar. They have no records of any other active-duty soldiers from the city being killed.
Gross, known as "Frankie," loved baseball and was a pitcher at Indian Rocks Christian High. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Full Sail University near Orlando and enlisted in the Army in May 2010.
Deployed on June 28, he was a member of the Phantom Trackers squadron assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 38th Cavalry Regiment, 504th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, out of Fort Hood, Texas.
Gross' decorations include the National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and Army Service Ribbon, according to the military.
He will be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.
Reach Lorri Helfand at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4155.