Family marks first Memorial Day without Oldsmar soldier

5:35 PM, May 28, 2012   |    comments
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OLDSMAR, Fla. -- Every day is a memorial day for the Gross family. But this is the first actual Memorial Day without their son, Army Cpl. Frank Gross, who was killed in Afghanistan.

"He joined the Army because he'd accomplished other things in life and wanted to do more for his country," Oldsmar Mayor Jim Ronecker told a packed crowd during a ceremony on Monday.

Last July, the 25-year-old became the first soldier from Oldsmar to be killed in combat.

"Frank would always make it a priority when he came home on leave to go and visit his best friend," said his mom, Toni.

His best friend? A 90-year-old World War II veteran named Bob Fincher. "Frank would always say, 'Mom, we have to go see Bob and Olga,'" Toni said. "Bob would tell some stories of his military career."

They'd also talk baseball, since Bob was recruited by the Cincinnati Reds in the 1940s, and Frank loved to play baseball all over the country.

One of the last photos taken of Frank when he came home on leave was with Bob. He was telling Bob and his wife, Olga, that he'd be careful on the battlefield. "He said he would be careful and try to do his best," Olga said. "He's one of God's angels now."

Frank's name is engraved on the wall at Veterans Memorial Park in Oldsmar. Today's ceremony introduced a new bench at the park that will forever bear his name. "I just hope that it's an inspiration to everyone to remember the sacrifice that not only our son made, but that all soldiers make," said his father, Craig.

But that sacrifice has brought his family closer to the man Frank called his best friend.

"It's very special to have them here," Toni said. "The tradition and the memories just continue to live on."

Frank's family has started a scholarship in his memory at Full Sail University. That's where he received both his Bachelor's and Master's degrees before he felt a calling to join the Army.

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