By Colleen Flaherty
Killeen Daily Herald
Cpl. Frank Gross wrote the same Bible verse, Colossians 3:23, inside his baseball caps throughout his high school and college pitching career: "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters."
"Basically, whatever you do, do it to the best of your ability," his mother, Toni Gross, said in a recent phone interview from her home in Oldsmar, Fla. "That was his life verse."
In addition to baseball, Gross passionately pursued surfing, graphic arts and his new Army career, which was cut short on July 16.
One month after deploying to Afghanistan with Fort Hood's Charlie Troop, 2nd Squadron, 38th Cavalry Regiment, 504th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, Gross' patrol hit a roadside bomb in Kandahar province.
He died of wounds sustained when his vehicle rolled over following the blast, making him the 576th and last Fort Hood soldier killed in combat since Sept. 11, 2001.
Gross was interred at Arlington National Cemetery on Aug. 19 on what would have been his 26th birthday, his mother said.
For Gross' family, including his father, Craig Gross, and sister, Natalie Gross, 28, grief comes in waves.
"For me, personally, Frank fulfilled all the qualities of a good son," his mother said. "He fulfilled the seven Army core values, he lived by those: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage. (They) epitomized who Frank was. When he put his mind to something, he was going to do it."
Gross enlisted in the Army in May 2010 as a radio operator-maintainer, after graduating with a bachelor's degree in digital arts and a master's degree in entertainment business from Florida's Full Sail University, from which he earned a perfect attendance nod.
Although Gross could have entered military service as an officer and planned to become one, Toni Gross said, her son wanted to earn the respect of his soldiers by having first been enlisted.
At a memorial service held at Fort Hood in July, Gross' friend and troop mate Spc. Matthew Garness called him brilliant with computers and "a blessing to the troop."
Both the Army's and the Oldsmar community's support have "lifted the burden and made it somewhat more bearable," Toni Gross said, including the moving scene that greeted her and her husband, Craig, when they returned from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to witness the dignified transfer of their son's remains.
"The whole development we live in here was draped in over 150 flags," she said. "It took our breath away when we drove in."
Toni Gross has also taken heart in a piece of her son's digital artwork that his girlfriend, Florida resident Tarryn Dorosz, sent her after his death.
Dorosz attended high school with Gross and started dating him shortly before he deployed. She described him in a telephone interview as "very loving and passionate and determined. He never lied to me. He was very honest. I felt like he held morals and principles very highly. If he gave you his word, there was no doubt he would keep it."
Called "Reaching Out and Falling Short," Dorosz, 24, said the last piece of digital art Gross sent her before he left is a departure from his other, darker work. Built on a photo of Gross in silhouette, the piece features black doves forming an arch over his outstretched hands, which appear as trees or branches.
"He didn't get too much into detail about it," Dorosz said, "but it's very different from any of his other pieces that he made. A lot of his other pieces centered around death, and this has no symbolism of death whatsoever."
Gross sent the image to Dorosz in late May, saying: "There must be something going on with this soldier in his old age," she recalled. "He felt different about it when he was creating it, I guess."
Toni Gross called the piece "light and optimistic," and "perhaps prophetic."
His mother takes heart in a set of three dog tags she received after his death, along with his other belongings.
The first set names his religion as "none." The second names it as "nondenominational Christian," and the third reads "Christian."
"It's a great story," Toni Gross said of the tags. "It's uplifting and positive."
The 10th anniversary of 9/11, so close to her son's death, holds similar meaning. "Frank's death has given me a whole new appreciation of what our military does, and that is directly related to what Frank gave his life for, to keep the enemy at bay over there," she said. "(The anniversary) is so much more significant to us now."
Contact Colleen Flaherty at email@example.com or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHfeatures.