Photo of Toni Gross volunteering at Fisher House credited to Craig Orsini
By Debbie Gregory.
During World War I, military families began a tradition of hanging a small banner in the windows of their homes. Bordered in red, the white banner had a blue star for each family member in the military. If a family member died in service, a gold star replaced the blue.
That simple gold star has become a cherished symbol of a loved one lost. And on this Memorial Day, I would like to introduce you to a Gold Star family.
Toni and Craig Gross’s son, Frank, followed in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps by joining the Army. On July 16, 2011, when he was just 25 years old, Frank was killed in Afghanistan by an IED.
U.S. military service members who die abroad come home through Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Toni and Craig traveled from their home in Florida to Delaware to welcome their son’s body home during the dignified transfer, a solemn movement of the transfer case by a carry team of military personnel from the Army, Frank’s branch of service. A dignified transfer is conducted for every U.S. military member who dies in the theater of operation while in the service of their country. A senior ranking officer of the fallen member’s service presides over each dignified transfer.
While in Dover, the family stayed at the Fisher House for Families of the Fallen. This Fisher House, and 70 others like it across the U.S., is a comfort home where military and veteran’s families can stay at no cost while a loved one is receiving treatment nearby. The families of these fallen soldiers are hosted—all expenses paid—at the Dover Fisher House.
“I remember the day like it was yesterday,” Toni said. “We left our rooms and walked down a lovely garden path to the chapel that was part of the Fisher House. We prayed and then we were driven to the tarmac to welcome our son home.”
To honor her son while also giving back to other military families, Toni began volunteering at the VA Fisher House near her home in Tampa, FL. She now spends every Wednesday helping to take care of other families whose loved ones are receiving treatment for illnesses or injuries. Craig wanted to honor his son as well, so he quit his job and opened a BBQ restaurant near Tampa called “Frankie’s Patriot BBQ,” filled with military and veteran keepsakes, the most important of which are photos of Frankie in uniform. Additionally, Frankie’s BBQ provides occasional dinners at the Fisher House where Toni volunteers.