SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) — More than a thousand people came from all around the state to make sure a veteran was not forgotten.
Tuesday’s incredible turnout was made possible because of a massive social media campaign that aimed to honor a former soldier who died without any family.
80-year-old Army veteran Edward Pearson died in August without any family to attend his funeral.
A funeral home published an obituary inviting the public to his funeral at Sarasota National Cemetery and the message went viral.
The funeral had to be relocated to a larger venue to accommodate the crowd. Even so, it was delayed as traffic backed up for miles with hordes of people trying to get in.
Complete strangers opened their hearts to make sure he wasn’t alone.
“Everyone here has something in common. They’ve got a heart,” said Army veteran Douglas Welch.
Hundreds of people crowded into Sarasota National Cemetery to honor this hero. They felt they had to. Many drove for hours, for someone they didn’t even know!
“It’s tough going through this life as it is. And it’s even tougher to do it alone without family,” said visitor James Holt.
These people were united by a bond to stand up for a man who stood up for his country.
“His sacrifice, its worth anything to me,” said Welch.
On Tuesday, Pearson was buried with full military honors. There was a 21 gun salute, folding of the flag, bagpipes, even a dove release.
The few who knew him were shocked at this response.
“I can’t imagine what Ed’s thinking right now! He’s probably like, ‘Me?’ He’s smiling!” said friend Pam Stringham.
Pam Stringham worked with Pearson at a Naples Publix. In his final years, he was a cashier.
“[He was] a breath of fresh air with a beautiful smile, honest to God,” said Stringham.
Due to failing health, Pearson had to leave the job, but he returned to visit his co-workers every day.
“We were basically his family at Publix. I mean, he would just come and chat with us as long as he could stay then he would go back to another department, Publix was his family,” said Stringham. “He was a very kind man, a heart of gold. Just a wonderful person. It’s unbelievable how he was.”
His friends grew worried when he stopped showing up. Stringham sadly learned the news through Facebook. She absolutely knew that she had to be here.
She smiled when she thought of what Pearson would think of all this.
“He would just laugh and say, ‘All this for ME?’” she said.
This sadly is very common. In fact, most Wednesdays Sarasota National Cemetery holds funerals for veterans without family members.
The public is always welcome. For more information, reach out to your nearest national cemetery.