Craig Gross has lived the nightmare. A military chaplain arrived at his door in 2012 to inform him that his son, Frank, who was serving in the army in Afghanistan, was killed when an IED exploded in the path of his military vehicle.
Gross met Donald Trump in a private meeting weeks ago, and as a Gold Star Dad, Gross was highly impressed with him as a candidate — and a man.
“Mr. Trump would not let any of the press in. He wanted to meet with us privately,” said Craig Gross.
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“Back in August, Mr. Trump was in Jacksonville, Florida, for the campaign,” Gross, of the Tampa Bay area, told LifeZette. “I got a phone call on a Tuesday evening from another Gold Star Dad here in Florida. He said, ‘Donald Trump wants to meet us tomorrow at 5 p.m.’ This friend can be a jokester, so I said, ‘Yeah, right.’ My friend said, “I’m serious. We’ve got to call back right away if we want to meet with him.”
Gross, 62, recalled his immediate answer: “Count me in.”
“We got in our car early the next day and drove to Jacksonville,” said Gross. “We were told we would meet with Mr. Trump at 5 p.m. — but there was a car accident on the highway, so we didn’t arrive until 6:20. Mr. Trump was supposed to be on stage at 7 p.m. sharp.”
Gross said the Gold Star Dads and their group were treated with the utmost respect by everyone connected with Trump’s campaign, and especially by the candidate himself.
“They escorted us into a private room, and Mr. Trump would not let any of the press in — he wanted to meet with us privately, even though he could have used that as a real ‘Kodak moment,'” said Gross. “Pam Bondi, our Florida attorney general, greeted us first. She gave all us Gold Star Dads a big hug, and then she escorted us into another room, and left us with Mr. Trump, his personal photographer, and General [Michael T.] Flynn.” Flynn served as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and is advising the candidate in this election.
“Every time I pick up a gun and go shooting, I think about Frankie,” said this dad.
Dads who have lost their sons to war sat down with Trump for what Gross assumed would be a handshake or maybe even a hug — and then “out the door,” he said. “But Donald Trump said, ‘Sit down at this table. We’re all going to talk for a few minutes,'” said Gross. “A few minutes turned into 40 minutes, and we were in there until after 7 p.m. —and he didn’t really care how long we talked, even with a crowd waiting for him.”
Gross was struck by the candidate’s sincerity. “He wanted to hear our sons’ stories, and more than that, he wanted to hear what our sons were like as people. He was very engaging. He teared up a couple times, too. He’s an even better listener than he is a talker. The man is a very good listener.”
Gross said the presidential candidate that the public sometimes sees on stage or TV is much different from the private Donald Trump. “He has said some dumb things, I will say that – he isn’t perfect. But you know what? At the end of the day, you can tell that the man is very, very empathetic,” Gross said. “He is both very cordial and very understanding — really just a great guy.”
Gross misses his son, whom he calls Frankie, every day. His restaurant, Frankie’s Patriot Barbeque, is named after his son, and the business is a labor of love and remembrance.
“Before I opened my restaurant, I was in management with Cisco Food Corporation for 20-some years, and in business for a total of 40 years. You don’t get there by not being able to read people. I really read Trump as being very open to others.”
“People used to praise me when I was in business for being as successful as I was,” he continued. “You know what? I was successful because of the people I surrounded myself with. I think Donald Trump will surround himself with the right people — just like Ronald Reagan did. Many people disliked Reagan at first, too, remember.”
Gross calls the current intense mudslinging from the Left a “sign of victory” when it comes to Trump. “Liberals are acting like a nest of rattlesnakes who are backed into a corner — and they’re throwing every venomous thing they can at Trump. I believe that they are, at this point, desperate.”
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Gross, his wife Toni, 61, and their daughter, Natalie, 33, cherish the memory of a beloved son and brother who is never far from their hearts and minds. “Frankie and I had a very unusual father-son relationship,” he recalled. “He liked to do everything I liked to do. We hunted and fished together. I play guitar and he taught himself how to play the guitar, just by watching me. I love artwork and he was an accomplished artist.”
“I think of him when I fish,” continued this father. “Every time I pick up a gun and go shooting, I think about Frankie. The first thing I do at 5 a.m. when I walk into the restaurant alone is to say the Pledge of Allegiance with Captain Matt Bruce on WGUL radio, and then I salute Frankie’s picture. I’ll never miss a day of saluting my son for his service and his sacrifice.”
Added this Gold Star Dad, “It was really special, telling Donald Trump about my son. Once I started saying ‘Frankie,’ Donald Trump started using his name, too. He said to me, ‘Please — tell me about Frankie.'”