A funeral service on Tuesday for an unclaimed veteran drew around 4,000 to the Sarasota National Cemetery pavilion in Florida, and the line of cars waiting to get into the cemetery lasted for hours.
While 80-year-old U.S. Army veteran Edward Pearson had no remaining close family and was relatively unknown when he died, news of his death drew calls from all over the country, and people as far off as Germany turned out for his funeral, according to the Bradenton Herald.
While the funeral pavilion is only designed to host about 3,200 people, the pavilion was packed to standing room capacity with estimates of more than 4,000 people during the service and hundreds more were still trying to get in to pay their respects an hour on in the service.
The funeral itself had to start late as the funeral directors were stuck in the traffic resulting from the outpouring of support for Pearson. At one point, they were stuck in backed up traffic five miles from the cemetery.
“I haven’t seen this many people since this place was dedicated. The response has been phenomenal,” cemetery volunteer Tina Beeler told the Bradenton Herald.
The crowd included many current and retired veterans, other active duty personnel as well as friends and family members of veterans.
“I’m a veteran and I’m here to pay my respect,” said one attendant, Ron Young. “Whenever I see a veteran’s funeral and they don’t have family, I come to these. Not all are in the media like this one was and those are kind of light, but I’m here paying it forward.”
HONORING A HERO! Look at that crowd! Hundreds are gathering in Sarasota to honor a veteran who died without any family. At this point, there’s still 30 min before the service starts! https://t.co/aX2lg4Uumj pic.twitter.com/BGXyQzrCKS
— John Rogers (@WFLAJohn) October 1, 2019
Many others, including those without a service background, simply came out to pay their respects as a fellow American; as was the case Patrick Roache who drove in from Holiday, Florida on his day off from work.
Another attendee, Dori Fava, came out to the funeral with no ties to Pearson or the Bradenton and Sarasota communities after having recently moved to Bradenton from Illinois.
“I haven’t even moved in yet,” she said. “But I’ve been with the American Legion Auxiliary in Illinois for the past nine years and I feel like it’s my duty to be here for him.”
Pearson’s discharge papers show he served from 1962-1963. After receiving an honorable discharge he reportedly went on to become an engineer and work for Marriott Hotel Services Inc.
Pearson was buried with full military honors with a playing of Taps and a salute from the veterans in the audience while the American flag flew at half-mast.