Thousands attend service of veteran who died with no immediate family

Significant Turnout for Unclaimed Veteran Funeral

SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - Tuesday, thousands of people honored the life of a veteran who died with no immediate family.

A Florida newspaper printed the obituary of Edward Pearson, asking the community to attend his funeral. The post made its way across social media and went viral.

Tuesday afternoon, thousands of people came from near and far to pay their respects for 80-year-old Edward Pearson at Sarasota National Cemetery. He was a Naples man who died on August 31 without any family, but Tuesday, that changed.

At first, there was a near empty Patriot’s Plaza.

“I don’t think any veteran should go without recognition at his funeral, I just don’t," said Dorothy Neely. "They’re too important to us.”

Too important to Ms. Neely, who made the trip to honor Edward Pearson when she heard on the news he’d be laid to rest alone.

“It’s so important for people to realize that these veterans gave it their all," she said.

Neely was one of the first to arrive at Sarasota National Cemetery, hoping she wouldn’t be the only. Then another strolled in and another.

“Everybody has family," said another attendee and U.S. Army veteran, Donald Johnson. "They just don’t realize who they are. This is his family.”

By the time the services began, there was standing room only. The plaza was filled with Pearsons’ new family from all over the state of Florida.

The ceremony started with musicians playing TAPS on bagpipes, then the funeral director offered the mic to anyone who wanted to say a few words. Several attendees volunteered, thanking the crowd for being there and speaking of the love and honor every veteran deserves.

“This is phenomenal," said Kim Small, a member of the Patriot Riders of America of Port Charlotte, chapter one. "This is absolutely phenomenal. I would like to see this at every single service.”

The group of motorcyclists attend every service the Sarasota National Cemetery hosts for veterans. This means several services a month sometimes, and others, several in a week. Unfortunately, Edward Pearson is one of many unclaimed veterans funerals held by the Cemetery since it started hosting these ceremonies in 2010.

“They have been here for over 400 unclaimed veteran ceremonies, faithfully every time," said John Rosentrater, director of the Sarasota National Cemetery. "Whenever a veteran comes here and says I’d like to use the Sarasota National Cemetery far in the future, we say when you choose a funeral home or crematory of your choice, be sure to give them your discharge papers and then that’s all that is needed.”

The crowd prayed, sang the National Anthem and one lucky veteran was chosen to receive Edward Pearson’s flag.

There are numerous organizations in addition to the Patriot Riders of America that partner with the Sarasota National Cemetery to help hold a service for every unclaimed veteran. The Knights of Columbus and Tidewell Hospice House are a few others.

Each time there is a ceremony, the cemetery will send out an email to everyone who wishes to take part. If you would like to be added to that list, contact the Sarasota National Cemetery by clicking here.

Copyright 2019 WWSB. All rights reserved.