Marine vet saluted by United Airlines with his name on jet (photos, video)

November 28, 2017 GMT

Marine vet saluted by United Airlines with his name on jet (photos, video)

CLEVELAND, Ohio – When Mark Lehman, 52, of Wooster, left for work Tuesday morning at United Airlines at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, he had little idea he’d see his name destined to be flying high, emblazoned on a B737-9 passenger jet.

The Marine veteran, who has worked for United for nearly 30 years, currently as a lead ground service equipment technician, was honored by the airline as part of its November salute to veterans.

“It’s a program where we will be placing the name of a hero on the side of an aircraft and that will fly for some period of time,” said Jim Casey, senior manager of operational transformation in Chicago.

“I really think veterans will appreciate seeing a veteran honored in this way,” he added. “We hope to expand the program beyond just veterans to others, what we might say are United heroes.”

Lehman was chosen for this first honor in the program based on his military service from 1983-1987, including deployment to Okinawa, and for his volunteer community work.

The latter includes providing coffee and meals for Wooster police and the Wayne County sheriff’s department, helping Wooster High School drama productions, and volunteering with Patios for Patriots -– a Northeast Ohio organization that builds free backyard patios for area veterans.

Jason Geiser, Patios for Patriots co-founder, said Lehman has been a “huge part” of the nonprofit’s efforts since the group started two years ago.

“He’s the most unselfish person I’ve ever met,” Geiser said. “Mark has taken vacation days to come out and work a full day in the hot sun just to help other veterans.”

Until 8:30 Tuesday morning, Lehman was only expecting a usual day at work. Then he was called to a supposed meeting with the director of technical operations.

Prior to the presentation, his wife, Lori, said, “He has absolutely no clue. He does not have a single idea that this is going down today.”

She was joined by their daughters -– Nicole Peters and Jennifer Villers –- and family friends in a United hangar where the celebratory aircraft was parked.

A strategically placed American flag covered the name, “Cpl. Mark Lehman,” written just below the cockpit window near the nose of the plane.

Lori Lehman expected that her husband’s reaction would be, “He’ll be overwhelmed . . . probably choked up, then just be speechless.”

But he deserves it, she added.

“He works hard for everybody that he works for, volunteers with,” she said. “Very dedicated, meticulous with his work, cares about everything, just believes in what he does.”

Lehman said he quickly caught on to the fact that he was being honored when he walked into the hangar and was greeted by co-workers, his family and friends.

But, “I didn’t realize I was going to pull a string and my name was going to appear. Oh my gosh, I almost cried,” he said.

“It’s just an overwhelming feeling. It’s like very humbling, but I feel very honored,” he added. “I kind of feel like there are other people better suited for it than me, but I guess somebody had to be first.”

Lehman described the United program to honor future veterans as “incredible.”

“Sometimes you, as a veteran, when you’re serving sometimes you wonder if people really care, and even when you get out, do people really care that I was in the Marine Corps,” he said.

“And this company had a way of saying, you know what, it matters. It matters what you’re doing . . . so I totally appreciate it. It’s something I never expected beyond my wildest belief.”

When asked about the possibility of someday flying aboard “his” plane, Lehman smiled, almost as if already seeing the jet out on the runway, bearing his name.

“Oh boy, that would be awesome,” he said. “I don’t know where I’d go, but it’s pretty cool.”