Ceremony honors fallen sailors and their families on USS Midway

SAN DIEGO -- Gold Star families and military personnel gathered to honor nearly 200 members of the U.S. Navy who died over the last year while actively serving.

The U.S. Navy Gold Star Program hosted the Bells Across America ceremony aboard the USS Midway Thursday morning. About 15 Gold Star family members -- those who lost a loved one in military service -- and 75 others attended the annual tribute.

During the hour-long ceremony, speakers read 199 names of U.S. sailors who died from September 17, 2017, to September 17th, 2018.

Sabrina Griffin, Regional Navy Gold Star Coordinator, said most died of natural causes or suicide. A small percentage were killed in action. Thursday's ceremony also honored nine San Diego-area members of the U.S. Army who died in the line of duty.

Manuel Martinez attended the ceremony to honor his son, who died in 2007. "My boy was a great, loving young man," Martinez said. "I think it's important that people don't forget that. These are real heroes to our nation and we need to honor them the best we can."

Pat O'Donohoe said his son, Justin, died in a helicopter crash while serving in Afghanistan in 2006. "He was a soldier through and through," O'Donohoe said. "We're still proud of him and we'll be proud every day for the rest of our lives."

The USS Midway hosted the ceremony for the first time this year to accommodate a growing number of attendees, organizers said.

A spokesperson for the USS Midway said plans are underway to host the ceremony again next September.