MILTON — William Swarmer was 5 years old when it happened.
He said all he can remember is seeing two U.S. Army men in uniform at the front door. Swarmer could not hear the conversation but suddenly noticed his mother crying. Then his brother and sister were crying. Swarmer retreated to a bedroom and hid behind a dresser.
He said he has never cried for his father, until Thursday.
Swarmer's father was captured Nov. 30, 1950, and sent to North Korean prisoner of war camp.
"He didn't last very long, they were very cruel to the prisoners," Swarmer said. "He died at the camp on May 30, 1951."
As Swarmer finished his sentence, a flood of emotion seemed to engulf him and he started crying. A strong heaving chest kind of cry, not loud just hard.
It was a healing cry.
"That's the first time I have cried for him," Swarmer said as his wife comforted him. "I don't know why I never cried for him."
Swarmer was attending a ceremony called Bells Across America, which is part of the Navy Gold Star Program to support surviving members of military service that have died or been killed regardless of the manner of death. It was started by the Department of the Navy in 2014. At 10 a.m. on Sept. 26, every Navy installation in the Naval Region Southeast had the same ceremony.
The region sent NAS Whiting Field 45 names of those who died from this area.
After the invocation and remarks from NAS Whiting Field executive officer Cmdr. Jim Brownlee, each name was read aloud followed by one ring of the bell. Normally ship bells are used for alarms, safety, and communications. On Thursday, they were used for signify those that were absent. When the last name was read, the bell was rung four times for any names that were missed.
The Navy Gold Star program is different from programs like the American Gold Star Mothers founded in 1928. The Navy's program supports the family of any servicemember who has died regardless of what branch of the military they served in, the manner of death or whether it was in a time of war or peace.
The American Gold Star Mothers is only for mothers that have lost a son or daughter while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States, according to their website.
The Fleet and Family Support Center at NAS Whiting Field coordinated Thursday's ceremony.
"I loved the ceremony. It's great to be here," Swarmer said after his emotional release. "The price of freedom is not cheap."