SARASOTA, Fla. (CBSNewYork/CNN) — An Army veteran got the touching sendoff he deserved during his funeral service in Florida.
After a local funeral home in Sarasota invited the public to attend the Army veteran’s service — since the 80-year-old had no living family — more than 1,000 people showed up to mourn him.
The honor guard silently folded an American flag as members of the military, countless veterans, and local residents all watched and remembered Edward K. Pearson on Tuesday.
“It just touched my heart. I just knew that I had to be here,” Melanie Lynch, who drove an hour from Ruskin to the ceremony at Sarasota National Cemetery, said via CNN.
“He served his country, I’m sure very proudly,” she said. “I think that it’s appropriate that we honor our heroes. I only wish I had a chance to know him when he was alive.”
Pearson of Naples died on Aug. 31 and he had no immediate family members, his obituary said.
When a social worker approached Legacy Options Funeral and Cremation Services, the owners said they knew they had to do something.
“One of our ways of giving back to the community of Naples is we offer free funeral services to any indigent or homeless veterans,” funeral director Michael Hoyt told CNN on Monday.
Pearson’s discharge papers say he served in the Army and reached the rank of private first class, according to the funeral home. He served from February 1962 and was honorably discharged in 1964.
One of Pearson’s neighbors, who is also a military veteran, requested his discharge papers so Pearson could be buried in a national cemetery, Hoyt explained.
“We reached out to some of the local veterans’ organizations in the county and we said we were afraid that no one would come except for us and the military honors,” Hoyt said.
The obituary ran on Sunday and more than 2,000 people commented on its website, the funeral home said. The social media campaign drew attention from far and wide, including from CNN’s Jake Tapper, who shared the news of 80-year-old’s funeral on Twitter — and was retweeted over 8,000 times.
On the day of the funeral, the Florida road leading to Sarasota National Cemetery was packed with traffic — all headed to honor one man who had served his country proudly.
My lifetime streak of never having been proud, appreciative & honored to sit in traffic has ended.
I am MILES out from the Sarasota National Cemetery where Edward Pearson was to be buried w/out family or friends today.
— Christian Ziegler 🇺🇸 @FloridaGOP Vice Chair (@ChrisMZiegler) October 1, 2019
“Seeing that response has been humbling,” Hoyt said.
The funeral home was not sure how many people would attend, but Hoyt said a lot of people had been calling and saying they would come.
The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office responded to Tapper’s tweet, saying “our guys & girls in green will be there” in a Monday tweet.
Hundreds including many of our own gathered today at Sarasota National Cemetery to honor @USArmy Veteran #EdwardPearson, who died August 31 at the age of 80. Mr. Pearson's service is one of many veteran/indigent funerals we attend annually. #Community #Service #LESM pic.twitter.com/8bZGt0Sfrg
— SarasotaSheriff (@SarasotaSheriff) October 1, 2019
The Sarasota Police Department also chimed in. “We appreciate everyone who has tagged us, private messaged us & reached out via social media to let us know about this!” the department posted on social media.
We were honored to be among the hundreds of people at the Sarasota National Cemetery to pay final respects for #EdwardPearson, a @USArmy Veteran who passed away August 31st. He sacrificed for our country & we'll never forget him. Thank you for your service, sir. Rest easy. 🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/fH6ER4WKNB
— SarasotaPD (@SarasotaPD) October 1, 2019
Pearson may not have had a family that could say goodbye on Tuesday, but a thousand of his friends made sure his service would not be forgotten.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company, contributed to this report.)