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Local Gold Star Families Remember Fallen Loved Ones

RUSKIN, Fla. (CW44 News At 10) - On Monday, people all over the Tampa Bay Area honored those who have given the ultimate sacrifice: giving their lives to protect our country, but it's not a day of celebration. Many families say it's a day of grief.

"You have a hole in your heart that never goes away. Like I said, my new normal is different. I'm not the same person," said mother, Lorrie Fleming.

"The casualty notification officer and the chaplain come up to our front door to notify us that our son had been killed in action," said father, Craig Gross.

For gold star families all over the country, Memorial Day is not a day of celebration.

"Memorial Day is not a mattress sale, you know, it's not a car sale day to us. And if somebody says to a gold star mom or dad happy Memorial Day, it's difficult because it's not a happy time, it's not a happy event for us. It's a time for us to reflect on the sacrifices of our sons and daughters," said Gross.

Gross lost his son, Frankie, in Afghanistan in 2011.

"About 20 or 30 minutes after they left camp, they hit an IED, and my son was killed instantly in that IED attack," said Gross.

Lorrie Fleming lost her son, Terry, in Iraq in 2006.

"They were over there and they were putting the pie lines on the road, and a mortar attack came in. He was supposed to be in the truck. In fact, one of the guys yelled at him 'get in the truck' but it was too late. It hit and the mortar ripped through him…he went fast," said Fleming.

For these families, Memorial Day is a day of sadness.

"It was very, very difficult, it took me a long time to get to a place where I could even talk about my son without falling apart," said Gross.

Now, that's what both Gross and Fleming do: they talk with other gold star families.

"They don't say 'Oh here she goes, she's going to cry again.' They cry with me," said Fleming.

They come together at a facility called My Warrior's Place, which provides therapy and recovery services to veterans and gold star families.

"If you're a veteran or a first responder or gold star family, and you need some time away, you can book a stay," said David Haggerty, a board member for the facility.

Haggerty was shot while serving in the army, and says My Warrior's Place is a place of healing.

"To share your experience with people who had some sort of similar experience," said Haggerty.

Gross and Fleming go to My Warrior's Place often and watch their son's dog tags sway in the wind, and this Memorial Day they will come together to find strength in each other.

"It is about honoring our children. Saying their names," said Fleming.

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