By Miranda Anderson
A portion of an area highway will soon have a new name to honor veterans who travel down it to their final resting place at the Fort Gibson National Cemetery, officials say.
Part of U.S. 62 in Fort Gibson is named for Teddy Lehman, who played with the University of Oklahoma Sooners and the Detroit Lions.
The Fort Gibson Board of Trustees recently voted to ask the state Legislature to rename Teddy Lehman Expressway to Veteran’s Memorial Highway.
Senator Kim David, R-Porter, said the name-change was added to transportation bill HB1759, which has several highway name changes in it. The bill passed through the transportation committee Tuesday, and the next step is to get the bill on the Senate floor, she said.
“I’m just proud I can do this for my new district,” David said. “And it was perfect timing for us to get this in immediately. I’m glad to see the support for the veterans that we’ve lost.”
It is David’s willingness to work and move quickly for the Fort Gibson trustees which will make the renaming possible, said William Boyd, a Vietnam veteran and former Fort Gibson mayor who asked the Board to consider the name change.
“Kim David just grabbed the ball and took off with it,” Boyd said.
Boyd said he initiated the request as a way of honoring veterans and their families.
“No one would have wanted to change it if it had in any way offended Teddy Lehman,” Boyd said. “He is an outstanding mentor to the youth of this area.”
Boyd contacted Lehman’s family and received a letter from the football star giving his full blessing.
“Once you read this letter, you’ll see that he’s a great mentor for the adults as well,” Boyd said.
“Please know that I think this is an excellent idea,” Lehman said in the letter. “I believe our veterans should be honored in every way possible and this fits with the National Cemetery in Fort Gibson — which, sadly, I know is still growing. I am very proud that Fort Gibson has a National Cemetery as it's a huge part of our country and town's history. I think every effort should be made to remind people that pass through Fort Gibson every day of that fact.”
While playing for OU, Lehman won the Dick Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker and Chuck Bednarik Award for being the nation’s top defensive player.
“At the time you named the highway after me, I was shocked and honored and, at the same time, a little uncomfortable,” Lehman said in the letter. “Thank you for naming the highway after me back in 2004 and to the people of Fort Gibson who have continually supported and helped me. For that, I am humbly appreciative. We should certainly move on and do the right thing for our veterans.”
Boyd said Lehman has impressed him in more ways than one.
“Teddy Lehman is my hero,” Boyd said. “I love watching him play football, but he’s a very humble person, and that is humbling.”
Boyd said he’s not seeking attention for his involvement with the proposed name change.
“I’m a nobody out here. I’m just a veteran,” Boyd said. “I know a little about politics, and a little about veterans, but I’m going to keep my fingers on this if anything needs to be done. This is not about me. It was just one of those things that needed to happen.”
Support from everyone involved so far has been unanimous, he said.
“The Lord has put favor on this project for all the right reasons,” Boyd said.
Fort Gibson Mayor Steven Hill said the Board voted to ask for the name change because the town wholeheartedly supports veterans.
“Honoring vets is a part of the fabric of our society here in Fort Gibson,” Hill said. “We are just pleased to honor them in this way.”
Hill said the renaming will honor many families and their loved ones as they take their last journey to the Fort Gibson National Cemetery.
“There are a lot of funeral processions that travel down this highway, people taking their loved ones on the last journey they are going to make,” Hill said. “This sign is going to be a good signal to those families.”