Oldsmar Ceremony Honors Florida’s Fallen Soldiers, Families

Gold Star Mothers Ceremony

Oldsmar residents Craig and Toni Gross salute along with Richard Hunt, president of the Purple Heart Veterans of Florida.

Under overcast skies that, thankfully, remained dry, the City of Oldsmar honored Florida’s fallen soldiers and their families on Sunday, as the annual Gold Star Mother’s and Families’ Day service took place at Veterans Memorial Park.

Dozens of elected officials, military personnel and family members of soldiers who were either killed in action or succumbed to the pressures of post-traumatic stress after returning home were recognized in a poignant ceremony hosted by the American Gold Star Mothers of Tampa Bay.

And while the Gold Star Mothers organization has been around for decades, the last Sunday in September is not yet recognized as a national holiday; in fact, in 2013, Oldsmar was the first city in Florida to host such a ceremony, according to Toni Gross, Gold Star Mothers of Tampa Bay chapter president.

Toni Gross speaks at the Gold Star Mothers ceremony on Sunday.

Toni Gross speaks at the Gold Star Mothers ceremony on Sunday.

“It’s not a designated holiday because it serves more of a niche group than Veterans Day or Memorial Day, so we need to get the word out,” Gross, whose son, Frank, was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2011, told Oldsmar Connect.

“We’re so thankful for the support of the City of Oldsmar, and for all those who come out to honor our fallen,” she added. “We have complete support of the community, which is why can do this, and we really appreciate it.”

Indeed the show of support from within the Oldsmar community and beyond was strong on Sunday despite the looming threat of inclement weather.

Congressman Gus Bilirakis.

Congressman Gus Bilirakis.

In addition to Oldsmar Mayor Doug Bevis and City Council Member Dan Saracki, Pinellas County Commissioner Dave Eggers, Congressman Gus Bilirakis, CENTCOM official Sgt. Maj. Stephen Houten and Keenan Knope, president and CEO of Curlew Hills Memory Gardens, were all present for the 10:00 a.m. ceremony.

Following an introduction by emcee Richard Hunt, president of the Purple Heart Veterans of Florida, and speeches by former Oldsmar mayor and council member Jerry Beverland and Gold Star Mother of Tampa Bay chaplain Yolanda Mercado, there were a number of stirring tributes set against the backdrop of the city’s gorgeous Veterans Memorial Park.

Boy scouts leading the Pledge of Allegiance, veterans singing the national anthem, mothers receiving their gold and blue stars in honor of their fallen family members, and a dance performance to “America the Beautiful” by members of the Tampa Ballet Theater were a few of the moving moments on the day.

7-year-old Clearwater resident CarlyAnn Surface.

7-year-old CarlyAnn Surface.

Perhaps the most stirring moment came when 7-year-old CarlyAnn Surface of Clearwater sang “God Bless America” and then received a Purple Heart pin from Hunt in honor of her father’s military service.

“She did great when she was up there, but when she got back to her seat, she just broke down,” said CarlyAnn’s mother, Stacy, whose son, Jacob, committed suicide in part due to the injuries his father suffered in combat.

“I think the significance of the moment just caught up to her.”

Oldsmar Mayor Doug Bevis.

Oldsmar Mayor Doug Bevis.

It was that kind of an emotional day in Oldsmar, although the overall message of the ceremony was one of hope and strength.

“I think it’s awesome to show how important our soldiers and veterans are to the City of Oldsmar,” Mayor Bevis said after the ceremony.

“This is our fourth year hosting the event, and it just keeps getting better every year.”

“This is a time to remember our fallen loved ones and to honor the families they left behind,” Gross said.

“I often use the quote, ‘Our soldiers do not die until they are forgotten,'” she added. “Let’s not forget them.”

Here’s a photo gallery of the Gold Star Mother’s and Families’ Day ceremony held at Oldsmar’s Veterans Memorial Park on Sunday:

  1. Toni, Gold Star mother 4 years ago
  2. OLGA V FINCHER 4 years ago
  3. Jeff Rosenfield 4 years ago

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