Our church (Indian Rocks Baptist) does a lot of incredible things. We have special ministries and special services. One of my favorites, that I make an effort to never miss, is the Memorial Day service. One of the main reasons I got involved in this service is because the whole meaning of Memorial Day became very real to me 9 years ago. This service started with a small group of people meeting out by our Memorial Gardens area. Each year it has grown to where now we pretty much pack out the Fellowship Hall. It is truly an amazing event. This year, due to COVID-19, the service cannot be live in the Fellowship Hall. We will still be having it, just as a virtual version that is live streamed.
With Memorial Day being this weekend, I would like to highlight the reason I became involved in attending our Memorial Day service. It is because of two of our Class of 2004 alumni who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country. They are true American heroes that we are proud to say were graduates of Indian Rocks Christian School. Alumni Corporal Frank Gross and Staff Sergeant Matt Sitton both died while serving their country with the US Army in Afghanistan. Frank was killed on July 16, 2011, after serving just one month there. Matt was killed on August 2, 2012, one month before he was to return from his third tour.
Through the years, I don’t think I ever really grasped the significance of patriotic holidays or the true meaning of Memorial Day. I was like many who viewed Memorial Day as a day off of school and later a day off of work as well as the beginning of summer. To the families of Frank and Matt, Memorial Day has a much more significant meaning. Over the past few years, my understanding and perception of this day has greatly changed as a result of Frank and Matt deaths.
Frank and Matt were outstanding baseball players for the IRCS Golden Eagles. At that time, Frank set all of our baseball pitching records and Matt all of our hitting marks. Both went to the Dominican Republic on a baseball mission trip twice during high school. I had the privilege of handing both of them their high school diploma and giving the congratulatory hug that goes with it. Both went on to play college baseball. Both had a great sense of humor, loved life, and lived it to its fullest. Both had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and knew him as their Savior, so we know where they are now.
The Memorial Day holiday began with the placing of flowers on the graves of soldiers (Decoration Day), so I thought it might be appropriate to share with you where Frank and Matt were laid to rest. When soldiers are deployed to a war zone they fill out a card of their last wishes. One of the preferences listed is where they would be buried in the event of being killed in action. Frank chose the hallowed ground of Arlington National Cemetery. Matt chose the serenity of the Memorial Garden, right here on the property of the Indian Rocks Baptist Church.
I don’t ever want our students to forget these two men and the sacrifice they made to help us continue to have the freedoms that we experience every day. One very visual reminder is in the high school hallway by our office. There we have a board with the names of all of our graduates that have gone on to serve in the military. Frank and Matt have a specially designated plaque honoring their ultimate sacrifice. The IRCS Baseball team plays the Sitton-Gross tournament each year in the pre-season where they honor Matt, Frank and their families. A more personal reminder for me relates to some baseball type cards distributed by the Clearwater Threshers a couple of years ago. The cards are entitled, Hometown Heroes, they are soldiers that have given their lives in service. I have a Frank and a Matt card that I keep these under the glass on my desk top as a reminder of their service and sacrifice. May we never forget!
We invite everyone on Memorial Day to join us on Facebook, www.IndianRocks.org, or the Indian Rocks Baptist Church app for this special service. The service is scheduled to begin at 10:00 am. You won’t be disappointed.