by Ryan Labadens, NCBC Public Affairs

Naval Construction Battalion Center (NCBC) Gulfport, Mississippi, joined U.S. Navy installations across the nation in participating in the third annual Bells Across America for Fallen Service Members ceremony Sept. 27, 2018, to honor those military members who died while serving their country.

The ceremony was established to pay respect to military service members who died while serving their country. During the ceremony, the names of 79 fallen service members from all military branches were read aloud by Gulfport Police Chief, Leonard Papania, and Long Beach Police Chief, Billy Seals, as a bell is tolled to honor the fallen.

Maj. Gen. Timothy J. Leahy, 2nd Air Force commander, served as the guest speaker for the ceremony, highlighting the joint-service aspect of this event.

“They were warriors of the United States; honor them. I am proud to serve the same nation as my brothers and sisters honored here today. We will miss them; we will also, forever, remember them, and we will forever remember the Gold Star families here with us,” said Leahy.

The ceremony was coordinated by the Navy Gold Star Program, which is the Navy’s official program for providing long-term support to surviving families of military members who die while serving their country. Gold Star family members from the local area were asked to attend the event, names were requested by the NCBC Gulfport Gold Star Program to be recognized during the ceremony.

After all the names were read, four additional bell tolls were rung in remembrance of those not listed. For these ceremonies, the bells rung do not signal anyone’s presence, but instead ring in their absence.

Builder 3rd Class Brianah Weston from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 133, a Gold Star family member whose husband, Petty Officer 1st Class Brandon Wilkie, passed away earlier this year, said she was grateful for the support that programs like the Navy Gold Star offers to the families of service members who have passed on.

“For me, it’s nice to have a community I can come to who understands – because my peers don’t. They may have had similar circumstances, but it’s nice to just have a community you can go to where everyone has similar experiences so you don’t feel so alone,” said Weston.

Emily Kolenda, NCBC Gulfport Navy Gold Star Program coordinator, noted how proud she was to be able to help provide that support and to honor the memory of these fallen service members.

“It is an honor and a privilege to work with Gold Star families from all branches of our armed forces, and it is days like today, with the Bells Across America remembrance ceremony, that I truly feel like I can give back to these families by publically honoring and paying tribute to their beloved Fallen Hero,” said Kolenda. “These families have made tremendous sacrifices while their loved one was alive, and just as importantly now that their life journey continues without that loved one. Our Navy Gold Star program strives to ensure that the Navy’s commitment is made true on their promise to honor, remember, and respect, and again I am grateful to be a part of that pledge.”