The funeral of Edward K. Pearson was overflowing with people on Tuesday — despite that the veteran had no known family members. An estimated 4,000 people turned out for Pearson's funeral in Sarasota, Florida, after the funeral notice mentioning that he had no family went viral, CBS affiliate WTSP reports.
"He's part of the veterans family. That's why I'm here," David Marsters told WTSP. He drove more than two hours from Lady Lake, Florida. "You never leave anybody behind."
Pearson, who was originally from Pennsylvania, died at the age of 80 in Naples, Florida. His obituary posted on the Legacy Options funeral home website not only listed information about his interment at Sarasota National Cemetery — it also mentioned that Pearson had no immediate family and that all were welcome to attend his funeral.
That obituary was posted on social media and went viral, with the outpouring of support shocking Legacy Options director Michael Hoyt. "It shows how awesome the power of social media can be used for an awesome force," Hoyt told WTSP.
Hoyt was one of hundreds who decided to attend the stranger's funeral. He made the 1 hour and 45 minute drive from Naples to Pearson's final resting place in Sarasota.
Sarasota National Cemetery hosts military funerals daily, but staff members knew they had to start preparing for this one ahead of time.
"It's a phenomenal thing," staff member Tina Beeler said as the phones rang off the hook the day before Pearson's funeral. "I can't say enough about these people who are going to show up tomorrow in busloads."
"He deserves this," the cemetery's assistant director Ed Lyons III said. Lyons himself served in the Marines. "He's got his brothers and sisters who were in the military. He will be laid to rest with family."
Pearson entered the United States Army on February 13, 1962, and was given honorable discharge on February 12, 1964, according to WTSP. His story gained such widespread attention, even the Democratic candidate for Florida governor, Gwen Graham, tweeted about him.
"Mr. Edward K. Pearson served our country. He has no family to attend his funeral. We can be his family," Graham tweeted, sharing the location and time of Tuesday's service.
Several local news outlets, including WTSP, were present at the funeral and live-streamed the ceremony so thousands of others could watch from home.