- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 10, 2007

John Schlesser, a homeless World War II veteran who became an inspiration to others in a D.C. mission, died March 27, a week before his 103rd birthday.

Mr. Schlesser had been under the care of the Central Union Mission on R Street in Northwest since 2001, when he showed up homeless with $3,600 in his socks.

“We saw an opportunity to extend ourselves to somebody who didn’t have anybody,” said Ted Ross, senior chaplain at the mission. “We became his family.”

At a memorial service Monday, a few dozen men staying at the shelter gathered in the mission’s chapel to hear those who knew Mr. Schlesser talk about his life.

The mission staff knew Mr. Schlesser as a man who slept most of the day, never missed a meal and was always pleasant and engaging. Occasionally, he “fiddled” with a piano in the chapel or took brief walks with staff around the neighborhood.

“He just had a certain charisma about him,” Mr. Ross said. “He had a humble disposition.”

Mr. Ross gave the following account of Mr. Schlesser’s life, which he pieced together over his time at the shelter:

He was born in April 2, 1904, in Latvia. Near the end of World War II, he stowed away on a ship to the United States and enlisted in the Army.

He drove tanks at Fort Knox, Ky., and was honorably discharged and given citizenship. Mr. Schlesser lived in New York state and worked as a limousine driver afterward.

In New York, he married Mary Lahomsky, a resident of Jackson Heights, N.Y. They were married for 36 years, until her death in 1985.

Mr. Schlesser became a “wise and prudent” investor, but apparently was swindled out of some of his money.

He moved to Ocala, Fla., after his wife’s death, where he again was cheated out of thousands of dollars.

Mr. Schlesser hopped a bus in 2001 to the District, intending to speak to government officials about his plight and other social issues, but by the time he arrived his luggage had been stolen and he was left with only a small amount of money. After a brief stay at a hotel in Maryland, he came to the mission.

In late 2005, he was sent to Westminster at Lake Ridge, a retirement home in Virginia where he instantly won over the hearts of the staff members.

Laura Krauff, assistant activities director at Westminster, said Mr. Schlesser loved music and food and often sang English and Russian songs. She said one of his favorites was “You Are My Sunshine.”

“He was definitely a bright spot in our facility,” Miss Krauff said. “When you look at that many years, you can’t complain with that long of a life.”

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