DeKalb man receives Veteran of Month award

DeKALB – Jon Lehuta doesn't think he's anyone special.

But the 60-year-old U.S. Navy veteran of DeKalb is proud to represent his fellow military veterans.

"I'm really pleased to be able to stand up here as an example, if nothing else," he said.

Lehuta was honored with April's Illinois Veteran of the Month award Friday with several friends, family members and other military veterans in attendance. He received a certificate signed by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and the Illinois state flag that had been flown above the State Capitol in Springfield.

The award recognized Lehuta for going above and beyond the call of duty as a veteran for more than 30 years.

Lehuta was nominated for the award by Herb Holderman, superintendent of the DeKalb County Veterans Assistance Commission.

Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs assistant director Rodrigo Garcia said there are about a million military veterans in Illinois.

"So, [Lehuta is] truly one in a million," Garcia said.

Originally from Brookfield, Lehuta moved to DeKalb in 1971 to attend Northern Illinois University, where he majored in meteorology. He left NIU and enlisted in the Navy in January 1974, serving as a weather observer and section leader stationed in Glenview.

After returning to NIU and graduating in 1980, he attended the Naval Aviation Officer Candidate School and became a weather officer on the USS Okinawa with assignments in Spain, California and Illinois.

Lehuta had attained the rank of lieutenant by the time he was honorably discharged. Then he continued his education in computer science at NIU.

Lehuta has served as an adviser for NIU's Veterans Club and service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega and has emceed many local events such as Veterans Day and Memorial Day ceremonies.

He is currently on disability leave from the university, where he is employed as an information technology repairman.

"I'm kind of a jack of all trades," he said.

An issue Lehuta hopes to bring to light with his newfound recognition is the struggles veterans endure after they return from active duty.

He said a two-year waiting list for veterans filing claims with the U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs is unacceptable. He urged more politicians to stand up and represent veterans in Congress.

"Vets need advocates," he said. "We always have."

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