A U.S. Army veteran who died homeless in Fort Wayne earlier this month will be given a military funeral today with the aid of several area veterans’ groups.
John Pawlowski, 69, died March 5 at Parkview Hospital of natural causes stemming from septic shock, according to Michael Burris, chief investigator for the Allen County coroner’s office. Septic shock is a full-body infection that causes organ shutdown.
Pawlowski’s birthdate, May 17, 1947, and his military service were verified through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Burris said. But much of his life remains a mystery, and no family members willing to step forward to claim the body could be found, he said.
Nonetheless, contacts made through the Dignity Memorial Homeless Veterans Burial Program by staff members at Fort Wayne’s Klaehn, Fahl and Melton funeral home have yielded a chaplain to conduct the services, as well as members of about a half-dozen area veterans groups who make a practice of participating in military funerals.
They include the Indiana Patriot Guard Riders and American Freedom Riders motorcycle groups; members of American Legion Post 241 in Waynedale; a group of Army members in active service; and representatives of Fort Wayne’s Safe Haven home for veterans struggling with addiction.
David Wilson, Safe Haven’s regional program director, said the agency will receive the American flag typically given to members of a veteran’s family – even though Safe Haven never had contact with Pawlowski.
“To me, it’s tragic when you have someone who served his country and dies and has nothing and no one. It’s tragic, but it happens,” Wilson said, adding that it has happened two or three times in the Fort Wayne area in the past two years.
One homeless veteran from Fort Wayne without kin buried with military honors was James Beavers, whose funeral, handled by D.O. McComb & Sons of Fort Wayne, was Dec. 17.
A member of the genealogy staff at the Allen County Public Library was able to find some extended family members after the funeral, prompted by newspaper stories about it.
The National Alliance to End Homelessness estimates there are about 50,000 homeless veterans, based on its 2014 Point-in-Time count.
Barb Cox, executive director of Shepherd’s House, another shelter for homeless veterans in Fort Wayne, said she also had not had contact with Pawlowski. But veterans in the program “definitely will go” to the funeral, she said.
“The guys, they’re literally, as they say it, brothers. It doesn’t matter if a guy lived here or didn’t live here – they’re brothers,” she said.
Staffers at the Fort Wayne Rescue Mission could not be reached Tuesday on whether that agency had ever served Pawlowski.
The funeral will be at 1 p.m. today at the Klaehn, Fahl and Melton funeral home, 6424 Winchester Road. Visitation begins at 11 a.m., and burial will be at Lindenwood Cemetery following the service.
Terry Vice, chaplain for Post 241, will conduct the service. Although he has done funerals for other veterans, today’s will be his first for a homeless one.
“I’m a little nervous about that because I want to make it right,” he said.
Vice was able to find very little information about Pawlowski. He found out that Pawlowski served from 1967 to 1970, the heart of the Vietnam era, but was not able to learn his rank or whether he served in combat.
It’s also unclear how long Pawlowski lived in Fort Wayne, but it apparently was several years, Vice said.
“It’s really hard for me as a minister, and a pastor presiding over this, to do a eulogy, and I want to do a eulogy, but I don’t have any information,” he said.
“I want to humanize him because otherwise, it’s just a name. It breaks my heart that I can’t personalize this for him.”