SARASOTA COUNTY — More than 4,000 patriots — members of every military branch, local law officers, veterans and community members — paid their respects to Edward K. Pearson on Tuesday at the Sarasota National Cemetery.
Pearson, 80, was an Army private — a humble man with no immediate family whose last known request was simple cremation.
His military funeral was fit for a general.
“We were thinking it was just going to be us and the honor guard coming up here,” said funeral director Michael Hoyt of Naples-based Legacy Options Funeral and Cremation Services.
Hoyt expected 100 people to attend the funeral of the unclaimed veteran. The small family funeral home offers free funerals to any homeless or indigent veteran.
“We made a couple phone calls to the local veterans organizations and placed an obituary in the Naples Daily News with a picture of Mr. Pearson, asking if anyone was available to come to the service if they would be willing to do that,” Hoyt said. “We got people willing to do that.”
The obituary Hoyt wrote was two paragraphs. The last line said: “This veteran has no immediate family. All are welcome to attend.”
Local media picked it up. Jake Tapper of CNN tweeted it. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio posted it on Facebook. By the time of the service, traffic on Interstate 75 near Clark Road was moving at 5 mph. People continued to stream into the cemetery long after the service had ended.
“My friend from North Carolina shared this post on her Facebook wall,” said McKayla McFadden, a Marine Corps veteran who brought her two daughters. “I said, I’m really close, and I decided to come. I just recently buried my mom and it was important to have people there. I would hope that if we happened to be in this circumstance as well, people would do this for us, for my husband, and that my children wouldn’t be alone burying us.”
Dorothy Neely’s husband was buried at the Sarasota National Cemetery. She and her friend Sarah Beaulieu attended.
“They shouldn’t go home to be with the Lord and no one to send them,” Beaulieu said. “I’m here today and I think it’s great that all these people are here.”
Neely said, “It’s an honor for us to be here.”
Veterans of Foreign Wars Post Commander Graham Ellis said he attended to represent the post and show respect for a “brother.”
“He is a private to this day and always will be a member of the Armed Forces and a brother to us all,” Ellis said. “I think it’s incredible. It shows the cohesive nature of military people that they will stay together no matter what. As our chaplain was saying, those who are out there alone need the VFW and American Legion — all the service organizations — that can bring them back to the brotherhood to allow them to speak to like-minded people. People who will understand where they are coming from and what their needs are in the community and in their daily lives.”
Army Sergeant First Class Archie Sanders III came from Apollo Beach. He said if he knew about more of the unclaimed veterans funerals he would attend them all.
“It’s great. It means everybody has their heart in the right place,” Sanders said. “There’s a lot of brothers out here — and I mean brothers by veterans — nobody can let a vet go by himself. He’s always got a family. If you spent one day in the military or one hour in the military you’re a brother. You deserve the choice to go out with dignity.”
More than 21,000 veterans have been buried at the Sarasota National Cemetery since it opened in 2009, an average of 200 per month. Approximately 80 unclaimed veterans have been laid to rest thus far in 2019.
This story originally published to heraldtribune.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the GateHouse Media network via the Florida Wire. The Florida Wire, which runs across digital, print and video platforms, curates and distributes Florida-focused stories. For more Florida stories, visit here, and to support local media throughout the state of Florida, consider subscribing to your local paper.
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