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S.C. man returns to war-torn Ukraine with ambulances

Bob Gross’ first trip was such a success he went back to deliver more ambulances to the front-lines

By Karl Puckett
The Island Packet

BEAUFORT, S.C. — Twice in the past six months, Bob Gross, a Beaufort resident and Rotarian, has traveled 9,000 miles to Europe and driven hundreds of additional miles across it on an unusual mission: Purchasing, picking up and then delivering ambulances that are now in use on the front lines in war-torn Ukraine.

Emergency vehicles are in high demand, Gross says, since Russia invaded Ukraine eight months ago.

“It’s a unique opportunity to do some good in the world and try to help the people in Ukraine as they fight the evil that’s going on over there,” Gross told the Beaufort Gazette and Island Packet Monday.

Gross turned to his fellow Rotarian International members from clubs in South Carolina to raise the $50,000 needed to purchase used Mercedes-Benz, Renault and Peugot ambulances. They responded.

“I had checks coming in by the handfuls,” Gross said.

Gross’ first trip came in April, when he flew to Germany to pick up an ambulance. He then drove it through Germany and Poland to Lviv, Ukraine, arriving on Easter Sunday. A local Rotarian club there, Lviv Unity Rotary, delivered it to a hospital. It’s now in use at a medical facility near the front lines.

Gross returned home from his second trip Sept. 17 which took him to the Netherlands and Poland to pick up two ambulances that were again delivered to Rotarian counterparts from Ukraine.

All of the ambulances were stocked with medical supplies and firefighting equipment.

Gross once presided over the South Carolina Rotary Club International district that takes in more than 70 rotary clubs located in the eastern half of the state.

Gross was joined on both trips by David Forward, the former governor of Rotary District 7500, which is in New Jersey.

Forward previously delivered three ambulances to Ukraine and solicited donations from the New Jersey Rotary district.

After Gross heard about Forward’s efforts at a Rotary conference, he decided he could do the same thing in South Carolina and the two teamed up. Gross found the money while Forward found the ambulances. Gross says the international service organization with thousands of clubs across the world is positioned better than most to get ambulances to Ukraine.

“I think Rotatory as an organization is the only organization that can do something like this,” Gross said. “It’s like having a brother or a sister everywhere in the world.” The ambulances, he noted, handle very well and should last several hundred thousand miles because they are diesel powered. But in a country at war, he adds, you don’t know how long they will last because they could be hit with a bomb at any time.

Gross is an environmental engineer who spent 15 years working for the state Department of Environmental Health an Control in Columbia before moving to Beaufort 36 years ago. He owns an environmental engineering consulting firm.

He’s 78 years old. But to Gross, that’s only his biological age. Inside, he doesn’t feel that old.

“I’m at that stage of life it’s time to do these things,” Gross said of delivering ambulances to Ukraine.

Beaufort’s been generous with donations since the February invasion of Ukraine. The city organized an effort to collect donations soon after and local artists also have chipped in making pins with the colors of the Ukrainian flags.

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