ORLANDO - A thrilled Talon Blasjo raced around the new home his family received in honor of his Green Beret dad, who was killed in Afghanistan when he was 8 weeks old.
“I can’t think about how happy I am now,” said Talon, whose mom described the energetic youngster as “8 going on 18." Bouncing into one of the bedrooms, he declared, “Mommy, this is my room!”
Friends, family and supporters looked on Tuesday as officials with the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation presented the three-bedroom, two-bathroom home to Crystal Blasjo, widow of Army Sgt. Aaron Blasjo. The Staten Island, N.Y., foundation is named after a New York firefighter who died on 9-11.
Entering the home for the first time to clicking cameras from the assembled news media, Crystal Blasjo asked her daughter, Harper Rowley, 6, “What do you think?”
“It’s beautiful!” Harper said.
The home provided to Crystal Blasjo’s family was among 30 completed or in the planning stages for Gold Star families, providing them the stability and financial security that comes with a mortgage-free home.
It was the second of three homes dedicated during Thanksgiving week. On Monday, a Gold Star family received a home in Smithville, Tenn., and another will be presented on Wednesday in Wimauma, south of Tampa.
In addition, the foundation has started construction or is in the design stage for 85 “smart” homes for catastrophically injured veterans, such as triple amputees, and paid off the mortgages for the families of 40 police officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty.
The Blasjo family will live in the 1,820-square-foot home in the Chelsea’s Run subdivision off U.S. Highway 27-441, along with Talon’s emotional support dog, a black Labrador retriever named Hope.
The dog is aptly named, Crystal Blasjo said, given the emotional toll the family endured from her husband’s death at 25 on May 29, 2011. He and two other soldiers died when the vehicle they were traveling in struck an improvised explosive device.
It was Aaron Blasjo’s third deployment to Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. He grew up in Riverside, Calif., while his future wife was raised in Fayetteville, N.C.
The soldier’s father, Richard Fletcher, 61, said his son’s direction was clear from an early age.
“He always wanted to be in the military,” said Fletcher, of Mountain View, Calif. “When he was a kid he used to play Army.”
Aaron Blasjo’s kid knows all about his dad, even though he can’t remember him, the youngster’s mom said.
“I vowed that day [when her husband died] to always keep his memory alive, and I have kept that promise," said Crystal Blasjo, who works with migrant and homeless families at Tavares Elementary School. "Talon loves hearing the stories of his dad and often shares with people who he never had the chance to meet.”
She added, “He could tell you stories as if he knew his dad.”
She said she moved to Lake County to be near friends and wanted to live near a certain mouse. Her father, Baker Thompkins, 60, of Oak Island, N.C., said with a chuckle, “She was gonna have it built where I am now, but I can’t compete with Disney.”
The foundation gives Gold Star families the choice of where to build their home, national community engagement coordinator Andrew McClure said.
He recounted that the foundation’s namesake was heading to play golf with his three brothers after working the midnight shift at his Brooklyn fire station when he reversed course after hearing that the first World Trade Center tower had been hit.
He returned to an empty firehouse — all the firefighters had responded to the attacks.
“Undeterred, he grabbed his equipment, put it into his person vehicle, and he headed in,” McClure said.
When Siller, a 34-year-old husband and father of five, found the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel closed to traffic, he hoisted his gear and ran 1½ miles through the tunnel to the site of what would become unfathomable devastation. He died when the south tower collapsed.
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