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Veteran takes pride in role with toys campaign

January 22, 2007|by MARLO BARNHART

HAGERSTOWN - It didn't take Wayne Gross long after he moved to Hagerstown nearly four years ago to realize that he wanted to get involved in his new community.

A veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, Gross got some encouragement from a friend in Ohio whose father served in World War II.

"I was told I needed to join the Marine Corps League in my area," Gross said.

In August, he signed up with the Bulldog Detachment, which meets at the AMVETS Post 10 building on Frederick Street.

Shortly after Gross came on board, the group was looking for a new chairman to head up the annual Toys for Tots campaign, and Gross was their man.

"I had a computer and an e-mail address, so I was chosen," Gross said.

In years past, the Marine Corps League members collected Toys for Tots and distributed them to children in the area by themselves.

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Gross pointed out that the members now coordinate their efforts with The Salvation Army to maximize their efforts and make sure no child goes without at Christmas.

Gross said there were some tense moments early in the most recent campaign.

"We took a count of the toys we had as of Sunday (Dec. 3), and we are barely above 800 with a little more than a week to go in our campaign," Gross said in an earlier interview.

But the response grew and when the toy boxes were collected, the figures were astonishing.

"We gave out 5,500 toys to more than 2,000 children," Gross said. The public responded overwhelmingly, filling the Toys for Tots boxes at more than 40 sites around Washington County.

Gross, 53, served in the Marines from 1971-73. He was a member of one of two battalions (1,224 people each) kept at sea in Southeast Asia at all times.

That arrangement was part of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), which was dissolved in 1977.

"I wasn't in combat, I was in supply," Gross said.

Later, he was sent back to the United States and assigned to reconnaissance.

"I trained for it but didn't go out of the country."

Gross said he just missed being deployed in the Persian Gulf. Instead, he went to college, first at Akron University in his native Ohio and later at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.

"I worked in commercial art for two years and then in government contracts and technical illustrations work," he said.

Gross works at Miscellaneous Metals Inc. in Frederick, Md., doing drafting and estimations as a project manager.

"Two years ago, I had a heart attack," Gross said. "Now I'm back to my old routine ... even riding roller coasters."

Gross and his wife, Patricia, have three daughters and two grandchildren.

"It's been an honor and a privilege," Gross said of his work with Toys for Tots. "I'll do it until they carry me out."

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