“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,” said Toni Gross, member of American Legion Auxiliary Unit 5 in Tampa, Fla.
Gross knows that pain. Her 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, Gross explained.
Her Christian faith has been helping her recover from that ache in her heart. Service to others also became a pathway to healing. In addition to her activities as an ALA member and as part of American Gold Star Mothers Inc., Gross volunteers 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. It lifts my spirit to be able to do for others. Being part of ALA Unit 5 is part of this,” Gross said.
There are ALA units closer to your home than Unit 5 in Tampa. Why did you choose Unit 5?
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.
Discuss your experience as an ALA member of Unit 5 in Tampa.
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 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 was doing. She did this for all of our unit members. Rosemary passed away not too long ago. But her endless grace, kindness, and courage as an individual and as an ALA member lives on. She helped foster Unit 5’s caring environment, which encourages us to deliver kindhearted, thoughtful, and selfless service to others. I am so grateful for my ALA unit.
What is/are your favorite ALA event/outreach/activity? Why?
Before COVID-19, our unit was very involved in attending ceremonies and memorial events in the community. I enjoyed that very much. But that all ended in March 2020. Now, my favorite ALA activity is our monthly Auxiliary Crafts/Social Get-Together. It is a time when we gather in the large room at the post and work on many programs to support our unit’s National Security Program. We are careful to wear face masks and maintain social distancing. Some of the different activities we do are cutting coupons, folding small flags to be sent to our deployed troops along with snacks and goodies, and handcrafting cards for our veterans. While we are doing something that will benefit and bless others, we also chat and share stories. During this time of limited and safe social contact, I look forward to us getting together to relax and have fun while serving others.
AMERICAN LEGION AUXILIARY UNIT:
Unit 5 in Tampa, Fla.
Veteran Frank R. Hankey, father (U.S. Navy)
YEARS IN THE ALA: 3