Craig and Toni Gross are joined by several Safety Harbor, Oldsmar and state of Florida officials, including Rep. Jamie Grant (center, blue) and Florida’s First Lady, Ann Scott (yellow dress) for the dedication ceremony of the Frank R. Gross Memorial Bridge at Frankie’s Patriot BBQ on July 16, 2108.
For years, Craig and Toni Gross have been fixtures in Oldsmar and the Tampa Bay community, promoting veteran and military family causes after their son, US Army Cpl. Frank R. Gross, was killed in action in Afghanistan on July 16, 2011.
Despite some noted public spats with Oldsmar officials and members of the city’s Veterans Advisory Board, the couple—Toni Gross, in particular—have steadfastly championed Florida’s fallen and their families, through their work with the Gold Star Families of Florida as well as other endeavors, including a visit to the White House with fellow Gold Star families and the 2017 Tribute to the Troops ride.
So it was particularly heartwarming for the couple to see a huge crowd, including State Rep. Jamie Grant and Florida’s First Lady, Ann Scott, turn out at Frankie’s Patriot BBQ in Clearwater for the dedication of the Gold Star Family Memorial Bridge in honor of their son.
Craig Gross reads a letter from Florida Gov. Rick Scott as Mrs. Scott (r) and Craig’s wife, Toni, watch during the bridge dedication ceremony on July 16, 2018.
The event, which was held on the seventh anniversary of Frankie Gross’s death several weeks after the signs were installed on both ends of the bridge, was filled with emotion and tears, starting when Craig Gross read a letter from Florida Gov. Rick Scott.
“‘I wish I could be with you to help honor the sacrifice and bravery of your son, brother, friend and hero. There is no greater sacrifice to one’s community or country than giving your life to protect others,'” he recited.
“We will never be able to repay Cpl. Gross and other fallen soldiers who have selflessly, courageously, given their lives. But it is our duty to ensure that their families are supported as if they are our own.'”
Craig Gross began to tear up as he read the last portion of the letter, which said, ‘”Thank you, Craig and Antonia, for raising a heroic and honorable son and for the many sacrifices you have made. You and your family are not forgotten. Sincerely, Governor Rick Scott.”‘
The emotional moment was followed by a few words from Rep. Grant (R-Tampa), who by all accounts was instrumental in getting the bridge-naming bill passed.
Despite the praise being directed his way, Grant was quick to note the movement was a total team effort.
“We were able to do something that’s not always easy to do,” he said as he called officials from Oldsmar, Safety Harbor, and the Florida Department of Transportation up for a group photo.
State Rep. Jamie Grant (R-Tampa) speaks at the Frank R. Gross Memorial Bridge dedication ceremony on July 16, 2018.
“The sign that you saw unveiled represents the first Gold Star Family bridge anywhere in the state of Florida, and it wouldn’t happen without a lot of emails from Toni and a visit from Craig in Tallahassee. I feel like I’ve become part of the family and I appreciate everything you all have done to champion this cause.”
Grant went on to thank those involved in making the Gross’ dream a reality, including Congressman Gus Bilirakis’ office and the Pinellas County Commission, adding, “this was truly a team effort and shows what happens when a group of people come together for something as powerful as recognizing all Gold Star families.”
After sitting and chatting for about an hour with several Gold Star family members, active military members and WWII vet and Purple Heart recipient Milburn “Mel” Cunningham, Mrs. Scott spoke to the crowd that packed the military-themed barbeque joint.
“Being a military wife myself, I have great respect for military men and women, and it is always an honor for me to be with military families and Gold Star families,” she said.
Florida’s First Lady, Ann Scott, speaks at the Frank R. Gross Memorial Bridge dedication ceremony on July 16, 2018.
“It’s an honor for me to be here because these people made the ultimate sacrifice, and there’s really nothing I can do or say to make you feel better, but I just want to be here to honor them, and you.”
Former Oldsmar City Council member Linda Norris, a close friend of the Gross’s, also commented on the occasion.
Former Oldsmar City Council member Linda Norris (c) poses with Craig and Toni Gross.
“I want to mentioned how honored we are that Oldsmar is the site of the first bridge dedicated to Gold Star families in the state of Florida,” she said, adding, “the hard work of Toni Gross and Representative Grant made this possible.”
“It’s a lasting honor and tribute to their son, who gave his life for his country.”
In between the hugs, handshakes and handing out food, the Gross’s spoke about the significance of the event.
“This has been an absolutely phenomenal day, very moving,” Craig Gross said.
“All I can say is it’s very uplifting, very encouraging and it shows that America, and especially the Tampa Bay community, has not lost its Patriotic fervor.”
Toni Gross started by thanking the Oldsmar City Council, Safety Harbor Commissioners, the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners, Rep Grant, Gov. and Mrs. Scott and FDOT official Bob Esposito before explaining the significance of the bridge naming.
Toni Gross (c, white shirt) poses with fellow Gold Star family members as well as WWII vet and Purple Heart recipient Milburn “Mel” Cunningham (wheelchair) during the Cpl. Frank R. Gross bridge dedication ceremony on July 16, 2018.
“In addition to the lasting memorial to Oldsmar’s only know fallen soldier, the memorial bridge signage is a powerful reminder to the public of the service and sacrifice that our military families still make,” she said.
“Every time someone crosses the 580 bridge, coming to or going from Oldsmar or Safety Harbor, my hope is that people will see and be reminded of the service of our military and their families and our veterans.
“I also want people to remember those who died as a result of their service,” she added.
“The wording on the sign is also a tribute to our Gold Star families. This sign, the first and only of its kind in the state, lets the public know that both Oldsmar and Safety Harbor recognize the cost of having a loved one in the military.”
Enjoy this gallery from the Frank R. Gross Memorial Bridge dedication ceremony: