SARASOTA, Fla. — Thousands of people wearing red, white and blue filed into and quickly filled the Patriot Plaza on the Sarasota National Cemetery grounds Tuesday to honor a man most had never met.

Edward K. Pearson’s funeral was a community event.

“He’s part of the veterans family. That’s why I’m here,” said David Marsters, who drove more than two hours from Lady Lake, Florida. “You never leave anybody behind.”

Every branch of the United States military was represented in the estimated 4,000-person gathering. Pearson died August 31. Just a few days ago, only three people were expected to attend his funeral since the Army veteran died without any living immediate family.

An outpouring of support on social media changed all that.

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“I just felt the urge to be here,” said Donald Johnson, who, like Pearson, served in the Army in the 1960s. “To make sure that he was not alone, I just felt the need to be here.”

The funeral service was delayed nearly an hour because of an unusually high volume of traffic. The funeral director from Naples, who made the two-hour drive to Sarasota for the service, was stuck miles away from the entrance to the cemetery and required a police escort to get to the funeral.

Upon starting, guest sang and cheered as patriotic and religious songs were sung in Pearson’s honor.

Pearson was born in 1939. He served in the Army from 1962-64. He died in Naples, Fla. Men and women from all branches of the military showed up to his funeral to show support. 

Not every veteran gets that treatment.

From the podium, the Sarasota National Cemetery director told the crowd that 400 service members have died without family at their side in his time at the cemetery. The large showing for Pearson was atypical and he encouraged the community to show up for other veteran’s funerals if they felt led.

“The people in this country still care,” Johnson said. “That’s why we served.”

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