My son's blue star has turned gold.
Army Cpl. Frank Robert Gross was killed in action July 16 in Afghanistan, 18 days into his deployment. As a result of his death, I am a Gold Star mother.
Even though both my parents, and now my only son, are buried in Arlington National Cemetery, and I am extremely proud of my son's life achievements and Army career, I still grieve the loss of my son.
However, from the moment the chaplain and major entered my home, read the casualty report and prayed with my husband and me, I have witnessed and been a recipient of the great care and support that the Army, our friends, and our community have extended to this family.
As we watched our son's flag-draped casket being handled during what seemed to be a superbly choreographed production on the tarmac at Dover Air Force Base, Del., our CAO (Casualty Assistance Officer), Maj. Heidi Skelton Riley, stood by our side, weeping silently.
We attended our son's rear detachment memorial service July 22 in Comanche Chapel at Fort Hood, Texas. At both the Fort Hood and Dover AFB Fisher houses, we were well taken care of. The lieutenant colonel and captains' wives, our military escort and the rear detachment generously shared their time with us, comforting us and honoring our son's memory.
From our home in Oldsmar, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office and Patriot Guard Riders escorted our limo and procession along a fire truck-lined McMullen-Booth Road as firefighters, emergency medical technicians and servicemen from Oldsmar, Tarpon Springs, Clearwater, Dunedin and Safety Harbor stood tall and saluted proudly.
Hundreds filled the auditorium as Countryside Christian Center opened its doors to memorialize and mourn the loss of a soldier who at one time attended youth group there Wednesday nights. Oldsmars Mayor Jim Ronecker; our pastor, John Armstrong; U.S. Army Chaplain Chris Carlson, and many others shared stories from a young man's life.
On his 26th birthday Aug. 19, approximately 75 people attended Frank's decorations ceremony at Fort Myer, Va., followed by his funeral service at Arlington National Cemetery. He was laid to rest with full military honors with his Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom comrades in section 60, where valor rests.
During the past three months, throughout the seemingly never-ending amounts of paperwork, the continual arrival of Frank's personal effects from both Fort Hood and Afghanistan, the funeral, travel and lodging arrangements, and the inquiries from Frank's creditors and student loans, our CAO Major Heidi has been by our side. She tirelessly offered assistance and took care of and simplified the paperwork by explaining it to me — often having to repeat items three or four times to be certain that I understood.
I could not have managed these processes myself, as I grieved the loss of my only son.
I liken the care and concern that Major Heidi extended to us as being like God: "ever present, never intrusive."
As Veteran's Day approaches, I am now distinctly aware of the service and sacrifice given by our veterans and soldiers. Please, when you come upon a veteran — and you will know that he or she is one — thank them profusely, as they deserve our utmost honor and respect.
In closing, my greatest gratitude goes to our friends, our church and to the community we live in, Oldsmar, for the overwhelming show of love, concern and tangible support they have extended to this family.
My deepest appreciation to Major Heidi, the U.S. Army, the rear detachment at Fort Hood, and finally, the soldiers of Charlie Troop, Second Squadron, 38th CAV Regiment, 504th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, Phantom Trackers who are downrange serving our country well in Afghanistan.
They are honorable, dedicated, valorous, victorious and generous, and may God hold them tightly in his grip.
Toni Gross lost her son, U.S. Army Cpl. Frank Gross, when an improvised explosive device caused his vehicle to roll over in Afghanistan. She lives in Oldsmar.