GROTON, Conn. – Naval Submarine Base (SUBASE) New London honored Gold Star families and their fallen service members during a special remembrance and bell tolling ceremony at the Historic Ship Nautilus and Submarine Force Library Museum, Sept. 27.

Among the local community gathered with Sailors and civilians of Navy Team New London, were 21 Gold Star family members. Gold Star families are those who carry the weight of a lost loved one who died while on active duty service.

"Gold Star mothers and families are all encompassing," said Beth Hundley, Navy Gold Star coordinator, New England and New York. "They are parents who live with the loss of a child, siblings who forever mourn a lifelong friend, spouses who carry an emptiness that cannot be filled and children who know a sorrow that defies comprehension."

"The grief that a Gold Star family member holds in their heart is a grief most of us cannot fully know," Hundley added.

The names of lost loved ones were read aloud by Capt. Paul Whitescarver, commanding officer, SUBASE New London. After each name, a bell was tolled, followed by a brief moment of silence. After all of the names were read, four bells were rung to honor the names of the fallen not spoken aloud, but just as dearly remembered.

"Many have made the ultimate sacrifice," said Whitescarver. "Their actions attest not only to the depth of their devotion, but also to a belief in their country so profound that they were willing to give their very lives for it."

The "star" tradition began in WWI when white service flags were displayed from homes, business, schools, and churches. The flags indicated by the use of a blue star, each active service member in the U.S. Military. A gold star stitched over a blue star showed the nation those who had given their lives for their country, and it highlighted the devotion and pride of those left behind.

Each Gold Star family member is given a small pin at the time their service member passes away. The Department of Defense issues two pins – one is round with a purple background and gold star. It is called the Gold Star Lapel Button. The other pin is square with a gold background and gold star, and it is called the Next of Kin Deceased Personnel Lapel Button.

"Those buttons are tangible symbols of immeasurable service and sacrifice," said Whitescaver. "[They are] symbols to all Americans not only of the loss suffered but also of the service member never forgotten."

Honoring the memory of Aviation Ordnanceman 2nd Class Tanner Brach was his mother Karina Brach Pistritto and her be st friend Bonnie Brown.

Pistritto said it was very important for her to be at the ceremony to have her son’s name heard.

"He was a great kid and had a lot of spunk and no fear," said Pistritto. "He did more in his 24 years then I’ll probably do in my whole life."

Pistritto added the stories she continues to hear from people about how her son helped them prior to his passing "are just phenomenal and awesome."

Brown said she is thankful Pistritto has something to help her cope with her grief.

"I’m just glad that she has something to keep his memory alive and be proud of what he did accomplish in his life," said Brown.

The Navy Gold Star Program is the Navy’s official program for providing long-term support to surviving families of Sailors who pass away while on active duty.