Goodwill gestures lead to healing in Oldsmar on Memorial Day

Families of local fallen soldiers, along with city officials and military veterans, enjoyed a healing moment on Memorial Day in Oldsmar.

Leading up to Oldsmar’s 2017 Memorial Day ceremony, a long-simmering feud between the Veterans Advisory Board and local families of fallen soldiers threatened to overshadow what is typically a unifying occasion in the city.

After the VAB denied local Gold Star family members the opportunity to speak on the day dedicated to recognizing those who lost their lives in service of their country for the second straight year, citing time constraints and the desire to be all-inclusive, Craig and Toni Gross and Don and Michele Carey objected to their exclusion at several public meetings, claiming the board was denying them the chance to publicly memorialize their fallen sons, US Army Cpl. Frank R. Gross and US Marine Corps Cpl. Barton R. Humlhanz.

Retired US Army Green Beret Brain Anderson walks with Toni Gross during Oldsmar’s Memorial Day ceremony on May 29, 2017.

During a public work session last week, the Gross and Carey families made emotional pleas to the council but once again they were denied, and the divide between the groups served as an unfortunate backdrop heading into Monday’s ceremony.

But the actions of several people involved with the ceremony, including Mayor Doug Bevis and keynote speaker Brain Anderson, quelled the bad blood between the two sides and made for another memorable, and peaceful, Memorial Day ceremony in Oldsmar.

“While the keynote speaker, Brian Anderson, could have spoken about the many accomplishments that he has achieved, and rightly so, he talked about Frank and Barton and other fallen heroes and their families,” Toni Gross said via email after the ceremony.

“This was the first time that I have encountered someone doing that and speaking to us about our son during a Memorial Day ceremony,” she added. “I had no idea that Brian was going to do that. It was indeed comforting to hear Frank’s and Bart’s names mentioned.”

Toni Gross hugs Oldsmar Mayor Doug Bevis during the city’s 2017 Memorial Day ceremony on May 29.

Gross also complimented Mayor Bevis and the VAB, who in an unexpected gesture of goodwill, allowed the Gross and Carey families to place the ceremonial wreath in front of the veterans memorial near the end of the hour-long service.

“I am grateful and very appreciative the Oldsmar City Council and the Veterans Advisory Board honored the memories of our fallen by allowing us to lay the wreath,” she said. “I will never forget that.”

“I still question why Gold Star family members are barred from speaking on Memorial Day. But I am grateful that they did that.”

Don Carey, president of the Gold Star Fathers of Florida organization, also expressed gratitude with how the ceremony was handled.

“The ceremony this year was one of the best I have seen in Oldsmar in recent memory,” Carey said via email

Oldsmar Mayor Doug Bevis shakes hands with Gold Star father Don Carey.

“Keynote speaker Brian Anderson was right on point in his message. His message blessed the Gross family and ours as he spoke a little about Frankie and Bart, but he also spoke of his buddies lost in battle and how it has affected him. His laser like focus was on remembering those who have given their all, which Memorial Day was, and is intended to do.”

“Mayor Bevis asking us to take his place in the wreath laying was an act of absolute class,” he added. “As we move forward I remain optimistic our concerns have been heard, understood, and proper adjustments made. ”

When asked, the mayor said he came up with the idea late last week after consulting with city officials and VAB members.

Oldsmar Mayor Doug Bevis.

“I was pondering what to do, because this whole thing has been such an unfortunate situation for everyone involved,” Bevis said immediately after the ceremony.

“There was no perfect solution, but I think it was the best solution for all, and I was glad the advisory board was fine with it,” he added.

“I think it went well, and hopefully the Gold Star families appreciated it.”

Speaking with a couple of VAB members afterwards, they agreed that the whole situation was unfortunate and they hoped the actions that were taken during the ceremony would lead to healing some of the open wounds.

“We understand that last Memorial Day we made a mistake forgetting about (the Gold Star families), and we wanted to make amends,” Frank Chicollo said.

“There’s many families here who lost loved ones, and Frankie happens to be one from Oldsmar, and that’s why we wanted to recognize them at the service. And I think they were very well recognized.”

“It was a very fitting tribute and it was an honor to recognize the Gold Star families,” fellow VAB member Dave Tilki added. “This is what Memorial Day is all about.”

Oldsmar’s Veterans Advisory Board members (l-r) John Ruckart, Dave Tilki, Mark Brill and Frank Chicollo at the 2017 Memorial Day ceremony.

When asked if the ceremony would be handled in the same fashion in the future, Chicollo and Tilki said that would not necessarily be the case.

“It could be different next year,” Tilki said. “We don’t know.”

“Nobody can say what will happen the next time,” Chicollo added. “Maybe (Toni Gross) will be the keynote speaker.”

(l-r) Don Carey, Craig Gross and Toni Gross at Oldsmar’s 2017 Memorial Day ceremony.

The board has a meeting scheduled for Monday, June 5 at 4:00 p.m. in the City Council Chambers building, and the issue is expected to be discussed at that time.

For their parts, the Gross and Carey families said they are ready to put this issue behind them and continue to move forward.

“Our family will not dwell on the past as nothing there can be changed,” Don Carey wrote. “It is time to start anew.”

“While I do not foresee the VAB ever allowing me 2-3 minutes to speak, today’s Memorial Day ceremony remembered the fallen and recognized the loss that the Gold Star families have endured,” Gross wrote.

“It was a good day indeed for our Gold Star families in that the names of their loved ones could be heard.”

Enjoy this photo gallery of Oldsmar’s 2017 memorial Day ceremony:

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