The Department of Defense announced today the death of a Marine who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Staff Sergeant Jason A. Lehto, 31, of Warren, Michigan, died December 28, 2004, in a non-hostile incident in Al Anbar Province, Iraq. Lehto was assigned to Marine Forces Reserve’s Marine Wing Support Group 47, 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, Mt. Clemens, Michigan.
For further information related to this Marine contact Marine Wing Support Group.
Funeral arrangements for a Macomb County Marine who was killed in Iraq are in limbo until his family can determine when the body will arrive in the United States, said his father.
Charles Walsh said the Department of Defense this week had the body of his step-son, Staff Sergeant Jason Allen Lehto, flown to Kuwait as the first part of the journey to fly the body to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware before arriving in Michigan for a funeral with military honors.
The process could take up to seven days, Walsh said.
“Jason was an outstanding young man who died doing his job, serving our great country and trying to keep the world safe and secure for us,” Walsh said Thursday. “There is nothing political about this. It was his decision to join the Marines, he volunteered to go over there to Iraq and fight for freedom.”
Lehto, 31, who was raised in Clinton Township and most recently resided in Warren, enlisted in the U.S. Marines after graduating from Clintondale High School in Clinton Township in 1992. He served in active duty until 1996, and then joined the reserves.
He leaves behind his wife, Michele Lehto, and sons, Nathan, 11, Joseph, 3, and Joshua, 2. He was employed as a service technician for SBC Communications in Trenton before he left for Iraq. SBC has helped supplement the income for his family, Walsh said.
“SBC sent them an extra check around Christmas, which we are very grateful for,” Walsh said. “And the AMVETS Post 57 in Harper Woods and the AMVETS Post 14 in Hamtramck have helped out also.”
Lehto was assigned to the Marine Forces Reserve Marine Wing Support Group 47, 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, housed at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township.
The Department of Defense has not revealed how Lehto died. A news release issued by the military said only that he died in a non-hostile incident. The family knows the circumstances of his death but doesn't want to disclose the details, calling it only a “total accident,” Walsh said.
Lehto was trained by the military in defusing explosives.
“Unfortunately, he had a very dangerous mission,” Walsh said. “We were worried about him and what he had to do over there, but he always walked to the beat of a different drummer. Even when he joined the military, he just walked in one day and said, ‘Mom, Dad, I joined the Marines.' We were stunned.”
His death came as an additional blow to his family, which earlier this year endured the death of his mother, Priscilla Lehto-Walsh, who died in April at age of 62 of cancer.
Family, friends say good-bye to Marine from Warren
When a friend offered condolences to Charles Walsh for the loss of his stepson and admitted he didn't know what to say, Walsh told him his presence provides comfort but nothing could soothe him enough.
“The only thing I can say is I wish I could take his place,” Walsh told his friend Thursday shortly after the funeral Mass for Jason Lehto, 31, of Warren, who was killed last week in Iraq.
The Mass was held at St. Mark's Catholic Church in Warren following a military service at Wujek-Calcaterra & Sons in Sterling Heights, including a 21-gun salute, playing of taps, and flag folding and presentation. A military burial will take place Tuesday at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia near Washington D.C.
“I told his Michele (Lehto's wife) that there are no words I can say to you that will make you feel better,” said a teary-eyed Walsh. “It's been nine days and it hasn't gotten any easier, and it's not going to get any easier.”
Staff Sgt. Lehto, who defused explosives, was killed December 28, 2004, on an air base about 100 miles from Baghdad while trying to defuse a bomb on the base with another solider, who was wounded in the incident.
He is the fourth military person and fifth person overall from Macomb County to die in Iraq since October.
More than 200 people attended the funeral Mass, many of them wiping away tears from their cheeks as they left the church. About 50 Marines, Marine reserves and other military members attended in uniform.
Before leaving, family, friends, relatives and fellow soldiers passed by the casket and placed their hand or hands on it as a sign of “love and respect,” said Mike Wujek of the funeral home. Some people gently placed their hand on the casket and solemnly held it for a moment; others patted or tapped as if they were telling him so long, but they would see him later.
During the Mass, the Rev. Robert Ruedisueli compared Lehto's efforts to “restore” Iraq — its freedoms, traditions and customs — to God's efforts.
“This is God's work, the work of restoration,” he said.
Wujek suggested to the congregation they “keep the memories alive” of Lehto by contacting the family and telling them “stories” about him.
Lehto's father-in-law, Francis Gordon, sang, “How Great Thou Art.”
Lehto lived in Hamtramck until age 12 when the family moved to Clinton Township, where he graduated from Clintondale High School in 1992. In high school, he became fond of electronics and computers, Walsh said.
Many of his friends from his youth attended Thursday's Mass and the luncheon afterward at Post 57 Amvets Hall in Grosse Pointe Woods, where Lehto was a member.
The Amvets also conducted a service Wednesday night at the funeral home, including presentation of a Bible and letter of appreciation to Michele Lehto.
After high school, Lehto surprised family members by joining the Marines, where he served on active duty until 1996. He then became a Marine Reserve.
Lehto decided to be trained in explosives in 1998 in hopes of later working as a Michigan State Police trooper or federal officer with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Walsh said.
He worked as a technician repairman for SBC Communications but still had plans to working in law enforcement, Walsh said.
A member of Marine Wing Support Squadron 471, which is based in Minneapolis and has a detachment at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township, he volunteered to go to Iraq with another unit, MWSS 472.
“We tried to talk him out of going but he wouldn't do it,” Walsh said. “He didn't go for political reasons. He wanted to go there to serve the Marines and his country. He told us this was his job as a Marine and he wanted to help and make a difference. As parents it was not our position to question. We were there to support him.”
Lehto is survived by an 11-year-old stepson, Nathan, and sons Joseph, 3, and Joshua, 2, as well as his father, Bob, and siblings, Angela, Anthony and Liane. His mother, Priscilla Walsh, died in April.
Lehto was due to return home in March, and he and Michele had discussed looking at a house in the downriver area.
Family members described Lehto as outgoing and helpful, and a great father, husband, son, friend, cousin.
Michele Lehto told family that Jason often engaged in friendly conversations with strangers, such as while waiting in line at a grocery store.
“He'd do anything for anybody,” said Judy Krug, whose son, Kristopher, is married to Lehto's sister, Angela. “He was a big helping hand to the family and will be missed very much.
“He's a Marine and stands tall.”
CWA Mourns Member's Death in Iraq
CWA has learned of the first reported death of one of its members serving in Iraq.
U.S. Marine Staff Sergeant Jason Lehto, 31, died on December 26, 2004 in what the Department of Defense classified as a “non-hostile incident” in Al Anbar Province. So-called non-hostile actions, according to DOD statistics issued Jan. 6, have accounted for more than 21 percent of 1,340 service-related deaths in that country since Operation Iraqi Freedom began on March 19, 2003.
“All of our hearts go out to Jason's family during their time of grief,” said CWA President Morton Bahr. “Words cannot express our gratitude for Jason's service to his country or our sorrow at the loss of a union brother.”
“It's ironic that such a high percentage of U.S. military deaths in Iraq do not come as a result of facing enemy fire,” said CWA District 4 Vice President Jeff Rechenbach. “But that in no way diminishes the courage or sacrifice of service members like Jason who pay the ultimate price to make our world more secure.”
Officers and members of Local 4018 attended a funeral Mass held for Lehto Jan. 6 in St. Mark's Parish in Warren, Michigan, where Lehto's family lives. His interment in Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington, D.C., had not yet been scheduled at Newsletter press time.
Lehto joined the Marine Corps immediately after completing high school in 1992 and served four years of active duty before joining the reserves.
He met his wife, Michele, while detailed for explosive ordnance disposal training in Maryland, reported the Detroit Free Press. They were married almost four years ago.
That was around the time he joined SBC as a service technician. Lehto worked out of the Trenton Garage near Detroit along with Local 4018 President Todd Lekity. Each technician is assigned a service number for identification in SBC's computer system. Lekity said the company retired Lehto's number 511 in his honor.
A member of Marine Wing Support Squadron 471 in Harrison Township, Mich., where he was-well liked on base because of his charisma and sense of humor, Lehto volunteered for deployment to Iraq with a different unit several months ago. Trained to disarm explosives, his job there was to help maintain an airfield in hostile territory.
While the family declined to discuss the details of his death, his stepfather, Chuck Walsh, told Free Press reporter Alexa Capeloto it was a “total accident” during a routine mission. “Unfortunately, something just went off.”
In addition to his wife, Lehto is survived by three sons: Nathan, 11, Joseph, 3 and Joshua, 2.
Michigan Marine ‘Wanted to Be There'
Specialist in Disposing of Ordnance Volunteered for Iraq Duty
Michele Lehto left her 11-year-old son's side yesterday and, with her hand covering her mouth, walked alone toward her husband's coffin.
Dozens of mourners, wrapped in winter coats and uniforms, quietly looked on as Lehto, 31, stood for a moment next to the metal coffin. She leaned over and kissed it, paying her final respects.
Gunnery Sgt. Barry Baker presents an American flag to Michele Lehto, wife of Marine Staff Sergeant Jason A. Lehto, who was killed December 28, 2004, in Iraq. With her are her son Nathan, 11, Jason Lehto's father, Bob Lehto, and his brother, Anthony.
Lehto's husband, Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Jason A. Lehto, 31, of Warren, Michigan, was the 111th casualty of the Iraq war to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery's manicured hills. Yesterday, under a gray sky and winter chill, his coffin was placed in the middle of a row of white marble headstones.
Jason Lehto's stepson, Nathan, 11, sat next to his mother during the funeral. The couple's two younger children, Joseph, 3, and Joshua, 2, stayed behind with family members in Michigan, said Lehto's stepfather, Chuck Walsh, 56, of Clinton Township, Michigan.
Lehto, a reservist, died December 28, 2004, in Anbar province, Iraq, in what the U.S. Department of Defense described as a nonhostile incident. Lehto was killed in an accident while “doing his job” at Al Asad Air Base, Walsh said.
Lehto was an ordnance disposal technician assigned to Marine Wing Support Group 47, 4th Marine Aircraft Wing of the Marine Forces Reserve at Mount Clemens, Mich. He was trained to defuse everything from pipe bombs to nuclear warheads, Walsh said. But “something went off unexpectedly as they were defusing an explosive device,” he said.
While the work thrilled Lehto, it had caused a great deal of worry for his family, Walsh said. During the summer, family members had even tried to persuade Lehto not to volunteer for deployment.
“[It wasn't] because we didn't want him to serve in Iraq,” Walsh said. “We just knew how dangerous what he did was. The nature of the beast was the greater the amount of [weapons] you're around, the greater the chance of something happening.”
But Lehto, who enlisted in the Marines in 1992 after graduating from Clintondale High School in Clinton Township, remained steadfast.
“He wanted to serve,” Walsh said. “He wanted to be there, he wanted to try and make a difference in a positive way there.”
Lehto's unit had been activated from January 2003 to January 2004 and was ready to go to Iraq, but instead was held at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, most of that time.
Lehto volunteered to serve in June, and was deployed with another unit in August.
Walsh said Lehto lost his mother, Priscilla, to complications stemming from congestive heart failure in April, and he and other family members believed that she was “over his shoulder” protecting him.
“We were hoping that would be the extra bit of advantage to bring him home,” he said.
Lehto had hoped to return home in March and was making plans. Just a few hours before he died, he e-mailed his wife, saying that he'd found a home for sale online in the Detroit suburbs closer to his job as a utility lineman.
“If it was still available, they were going to look at it,” Walsh said.
Walsh described his stepson as a “vivacious young gentleman” who “just floated through life just enjoying everything there was about it and everything about everybody.”
He was very close to his brother, Anthony, and sisters Angela and Liane, and had many friends and cousins with whom he hung out all the time, Walsh said.
He's a loving brother, son, husband and father, Walsh said, referring to Lehto in the present tense.
“I'm not going to speak of him in the past,” Walsh said, “because I'm never going to think of him as gone.”
- LEHTO, JASON ALLEN
- SSGT US MARINE CORPS
- DATE OF BIRTH: 10/31/1973
- DATE OF DEATH: 12/28/2004
- BURIED AT: SECTION 60 SITE 8091
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
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Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard