Guest Blog by Toni Gross,
Member of ALA Unit 5 in Tampa, Fla.
I remember sitting at a back table at a formal dinner that American Legion Auxiliary Unit 5 in Tampa, Fla., hosted not too long ago for a very special group of ladies: mothers of fallen military members, also known as Gold Star Mothers.
A delicious meal was enjoyed by the 40 Gold Star Mothers. I listened to them talk about their fallen heroes. I saw them laughing, and, at times, crying. I was touched by the compassion and care that Auxiliary members extended to those moms by giving them special handcrafted gifts, asking them to talk about their loved ones, and by expressing genuine interest in the moms.
You see, I was one of the Gold Star Mothers at that wonderful and unforgettable dinner, which occurred before I began regularly attending our ALA unit meetings. The members of Unit 5 truly honor through service.
A military death in combat – it is a unique and solemn death. And for any mom, the loss of a child is truly the deepest sorrow she can experience.
My only son, U.S. Army Cpl. Frank R. Gross, was killed in action July 16, 2011, by a roadside IED during his deployment in Afghanistan. He had served a little more than a year prior to his death.
Through my Christian faith, and God embracing me, I began to heal. I said, “God, what do I do? Take this grief and do what?” I had come to realize I can serve and have my service be part of my healing. And it has been. In addition to what I do as a member of the American Legion Auxiliary and as a member of American Gold Star Mothers, I volunteer with several other veterans service organizations — including the USO at Tampa International Airport, and the VAVS (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Voluntary Service) at James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa.
My son lives on in what I do. When I’m serving, I am getting uplifted and blessed. Whenever I serve, it lifts my spirit to be able to do for others. Being part of ALA Unit 5 is part of this.
Although there are several ALA units closer to my home, I chose to join Unit 5 in Tampa. The primary reason is the genuine care and concern of the officers and members toward all — not just newer members like me — but to everyone. At Unit 5 meetings, there are no strangers. Each of our unit officers takes time to greet and speak with everyone. The monthly unit meetings are like family gatherings without the family drama.
After I joined Unit 5, our unit president at the time, Rosemary Hamblin, often sent me encouraging personal emails — even as she was standing by her husband Bill’s side during his cancer battle. Rosemary’s emails seemed to reach me at just the right time. They were well thought out, heartfelt, uplifting messages. She would call too, sometimes just to see how I'm doing. She did this for all of our unit members.
Being in Unit 5’s caring environment encourages us to deliver kindhearted, thoughtful, and selfless service to others. I am so grateful for my ALA unit.
EDITOR’S NOTE: ALA member Rosemary Hamblin died Nov. 28, 2020, several months after the death of her husband Bill. Toni Gross, an ALA member since 2018, dedicates this guest blog to the memory and spirit of Rosemary.