TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A photographic war memorial honoring United States military fallen during the global war on terror is being shown at MacDill Park.
“Remembering Our Fallen,” along Tampa’s Riverwalk, is presented by the Commitment, Respect, Integrity, Service, Pride organization. A group of volunteers, including workers from the Air Force Sergeants Association Chapter 552 and Tampa Fire Rescue, helped install the memorial Wednesday morning.
The memorial includes 32 Tribute Towers with both military and personal photos of over more than 5,000 military members fallen since Sept. 11, 2001.
Gold Star father Craig Gross, of Oldsmar, attended the opening of the exhibit in honor of his son, Corporal Frank Robert Gross, of the United States Army.
Gross said it was his son’s life-long dream to be a soldier, like his grandfathers in the Army and Navy before him.
“Frankie was just a great young man. He was a good student. Ended up getting his masters degree from Full Sail University and even though he had his masters degree, he still went in the military as an NCO and he literally said, ‘I wanted to be boots on the ground. I want to be a soldier and I want to fight for my country,’” he said.
His son served in the 38th cavalry, 541st brigade, deployed to Afghanistan as a member of a long-range surveillance unit. Gross’ son was killed by an IED when his Humvee ran over the explosive on a road they were navigating for a rescue mission to retrieve a minesweepers pinned down in the desert.
The elder Gross and his wife were alerted by neighbors after a church picnic.
“I turned around and I looked and I saw these two soldiers walking up my driveway, two officers,” Gross said. “One of them had a cross on his lapel. And I knew what that was going to be all about. I asked them, I said, ‘please, don’t say anything until my wife gets home. She’ll be here in about 10 or 15 minutes.’”
For the memorial in his community, Gross said he believes he’s speaking for all Gold Star Families.
“This says to us, as Gold Star Families, that our sons’ and our daughters’ sacrifices will not be forgotten,” he said.
Craig and his wife have an organization called Gold Star Awareness to make the public aware of what a Gold Star Family is, to help others and to remind the public their son’s and daughter’s sacrifices cannot be forgotten.
“I think Frankie and a number of these soldiers and sailors and Marines, Coasties – I think a lot of them would say, ‘don’t make a big deal out of this. We were happy to serve our country and we were more than willing to make a sacrifice for the freedom of this nation,'” Gross said.
Karl Host, a retired Major General in the US Army, wrote in his journal for every loss of a service member during his final tour in Iraq.
“The first time a soldier was killed during that tour, I wrote his name down in my journal. It became a habit for me, every time we lost a soldier, I would write his name down,” he explained. “I didn’t realize how many names would be there when I started. I thought, you know, I’ll just capture a few names in my book and what I found was one page became another page, became another page. Two hundred and seventy three names in this book of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in our unit’s rotation in to Iraq.”
He said with the significant military presence, and presence of retired military members in the Tampa Bay area, the exhibit is important. He says the military community here is extremely patriotic.
“This is kind of hallowed ground, and bringing in this display of men and women who have died in combat make it even more hallowed while that presence is here. And it’s just so people don’t forget,” he said.
Those 273 names of his unit are on display at the park.
“…remember this patriotic display so that America remembers and specifically that Tampa remembers,” he said.
“Remembering Our Fallen” is free and open to the public through March 20.