OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — In honor of Military Appreciation Month, we are taking the week to highlight acts of military duty, honor and service in the Omaha area.
Lt. Commander Thomas Blake proudly served this country for 11 years. In that service, he made the ultimate sacrifice. 3 News Now Anchor Serese Cole visited with his family to learn more about the Navy Flight Officer and his teenage son, who is now following in his footsteps.
"I remember everything about that day. I remember how the air smelled. I remember the day, what it looked like," Jessica Blake Arlt recalled.
That day was September 21, 2005.
Jessica was nine months pregnant.
She left her doctor's appointment with her little son, Tommy, when she saw the news — a navy jet had crashed.
"I read that it was a crash and that it was in Jacksonville. That's when I started to panic because I knew he was flying," she added.
Her husband, Naval Flight Officer Lt. Commander Thomas Blake was stationed in Jacksonville.
She immediately tried to call him, but there was no answer.
So, she took her son home and waited.
"As I was laying him down when a car pulled up and I heard car doors. I saw two people I knew, and I saw a flight suit with a chaplain rank and I thought 'oh God' ... When they opened my doors, somebody took Tommy out of my arms. That's when they did the notification," Jessica said tearfully.
It was her worst fear.
Her husband Thomas died in the crash.
"I remember having a really hard time looking at Tommy because he knew," Jessica said. "Being nearly two, he didn't have many words. But he looked at me and he said, 'Daddy go?' Question mark. And I didn't say anything, and he said, 'Daddy go.' He knew."
"Tommy was his world," she reminisced.
'I was about two years old - so really don't have any memories of him," Tommy Blake said.
Over the years, Jessica made sure Tommy knew what kind of man his father was.
He was a good man hardworking, smart funny. I also wanted him to know he wasn't perfect. I've tried really hard not to keep him on a pedestal. I wanted him to be real and not an unattainable persona," Jessica said.
Looking through pictures, it's easy to see how much Thomas adored his son.
While the life of Tommy's father was cut short, their unique bond lives on.
"There are times that he'll just be walking across the room or talking or breathing or something and it'll just strike me and take my breath away. I love it," Jessica admitted.
The little boy, who was once his dad's shadow — is now a young man — following in his footsteps.
Tommy proudly wore his dad's leather flight jacket in his senior pictures.
"I wore it with a tie to something and I liked how it looked," Tommy smiled.
He recently graduated high school and will soon be heading to the prestigious Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
Getting accepted was no easy feat.
"A physical test, medical exam, you have to good grades, congressional nomination — that's just a few of the things you have to do," Tommy said.
His decision to serve was much easier.
"Because of my dad, it has always been on my radar. I've been open to that path. And then once I got into high school and started doing my volunteer hours, service, I really enjoyed doing that and so going into a career and lifestyle of serving others and serving my country was something that I really wanted to do." Tommy said.
He knows the sky is the limit.
"Hopefully fly," said Tommy, smiling. "We'll see."
Father and son.
Separated by tragedy.
Connected by love of service and country.
"He loved the Navy. He was so proud of what he did," Jessica shared.
"It's great to be a part of a legacy of service and of honor," Tommy added. "I think he'd be really proud of me following my heart and following what I want to do."
Jessica was nine months pregnant with their second child when Thomas died.
She says Thomas was looking forward to their baby's arrival and was so excited about meeting their little girl.
Lilly was born two weeks after her father's death and is now 16 years old.
Mom says both of their children share Thomas's wit, sense of humor and passion.