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Gold Star Father in Manatee County honors son killed in action

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PARRISH, Fla. -- While many families are celebrating Father's Day with dinner and gifts, others are depending on their memories to get through the holiday. Gold Star Families are relatives of armed services members killed in action. For one Gold Star Father in Manatee County, Father's Day is bittersweet as he honors of his three sons; one killed in the line of duty.

"We are free because of people like my son," said Kris Hager, Chairman of the Board of Directors for Gold Star Fathers of Florida, and a Gold Star Father himself.

Military service is in the Hager family's blood. Though Kris Hager's lottery draft number was never selected, his father served as a glider pilot in World War II, his son Aaron in the Coast Guard, and his oldest son Josh as an Army ranger.

"He was one of those heroes that led people and loved what he did," said Hager.

What Josh did cost him his life. The Platoon Sergeant was killed in action in February 2007, after more than 70 combat missions in Iraq.

"He called me six days before we lost him and told me dad, I just called to tell you I love you," said Hager.

Sunday marks Kris' 11th fathers day without Joshm just two days before what would've been his son's 40th birthday. Now Kris' mission is education to teach the community about Gold Star Families and how to properly honor America's fallen heroes.

"In 10 years, I've never had someone ask me what the gold star meant. People don't know," said Hager.

The symbol recently took Kris to The White House, where he and other Gold Star Families met with President Donald Trump. The group is working to create a position in The White House for a gold star family advocate.

"We met the President on a couple of occasions," said Hager. "He asked the same question, 'does it ever get better?' The answer is no, it gets different."

The biggest changes are in his spirited 8-year-old son Carson, who Kris said has the same characteristics as the brother he never met. It's a glimmer of light during what can be a tough holiday.

"I have two [sons] that are alive," explained Hager. "That's what Father's Day means. I really do think about those who have lost more than I."

Gold Star Parents can get in touch with Gold Star Fathers of Florida through its Facebook group. Kris and his wife Wendy Hager continue to share their story through their website Five Minutes at a Time.