CLEARWATER — Before he went off to war last month, Army Cpl. Frank R. Gross spoke with his dad about what it meant to be a soldier.
Father and son had conversations about sacrifice, and about how, sometimes, soldiers made the ultimate one, with their lives.
"That did not deter him," Craig Gross said Saturday. "He was committed to the cause."
Frank Gross, 25, of Oldsmar was killed July 16 in Afghanistan, less than a month after his first deployment. An improvised explosive device caused his vehicle to roll over, officials said.
On Saturday, hundreds of relatives, friends and local residents gathered at Countryside Christian Center to remember the young man in a memorial service.
Fire trucks from Oldsmar and Safety Harbor hoisted an American flag between two ladders high above the entrance to the church. Local residents, many of whom had never met Gross, lined the drive and saluted.
"I felt it was my duty," said Kim Cameron, 49, of Oldsmar, who stood outside and waved a flag.
For this tiny North Pinellas city, the loss is great.
Gross was the first active-duty soldier from the town to be killed, Oldsmar Mayor Jim Ronecker said during the service.
"Today we come together as a grieving community," Ronecker said. "The entire community of Tampa Bay cares about the heroes who protect us."
The corporal's family said it was always his dream to serve his country.
During military training, he became an expert marksman, and earned several decorations including a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. He was a member of the 2nd Squadron, 38th Calvary Regiment, 504th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade out of Fort Hood, Texas.
Gross had lived in Florida with his family — including his mother, Antonia, and older sister, Natalie — since 1998.
He played baseball at Indian Rocks Christian High and had once hit a home run at the Baseball Hall of Fame. He earned both bachelor's and master's degrees at Full Sail University, in digital arts and entertainment business.
Those who knew him called him "Frankie." He loved to fish. He loved to surf.
"He was good at everything he did," said John L. Armstrong, pastor of Harbor Life Church in Safety Harbor, where the Grosses are members. "He got the call, he went, and he gave his all."
During the service, held at Countryside Christian Center to accommodate more people, his family thanked the community for its support.
Craig and Antonia Gross recalled returning home from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to find their subdivision filled with flags.
Since their son's death, the couple said, people have sent meals, cards and even encouraging Scriptures.
"God bless you, God bless my son, and God bless America," Craig Gross said in a tearful voice.
Gross will be buried at Arlington National Ceremony.
Kameel Stanley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8643.