(NBC) – Hundreds of well-wishers on Tuesday paid tribute to a Florida veteran, who they had never met after he died without any nearby family.
Strangers flocked Sarasota National Cemetery and became instant loved ones to 80-year-old Edward K. Pearson, who passed away in Naples on Aug. 31.
Pearson served in the U.S. Army between 1962 and 1964.
One of the few in attendance who knew the late veteran, neighbor April McCausland, said her friend would have been touched by the outpouring.
“If Ed were here today, he would cry, he would laugh and he would salute,” McCausland told mourners.
“He was a wonderful man and he deserves everything that’s happened for him today.”
Pearson’s case was brought to Legacy Options Funeral Home & Cremation Services after local social workers told undertakers they had not been able to reach the veteran’s adult children, according to funeral director Michael Hoyt.
“They were unable to get any family members and no one had come forward,” Hoyt told NBC News on Tuesday.
Hoyt declined to elaborate on why Pearson’s family could not be reached.
Pearson’s obituary, which said he “had no immediate family” and invited the public to attend, was widely shared across social media.
An overflow audience of about 1,500 flocked to the Sarasota National Cemetery’s Patriot Plaza amphitheater. Many were late to the service because of the unexpectedly heavy traffic.
“I went better than we could have imagined,” Hoyt said.
The veteran received full military honors at his sendoff on Tuesday, with a bugler performing “Taps,” bagpipes playing “Amazing Grace” and a flock of doves released.