‘I had to be here:’ More than 1,000 came to free funeral service for veteran with no family

NAPLES, Fla. — After a funeral director invited the public to a veteran’s service because he had no 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 people from the Sarasota, Florida, area watched on Tuesday, Oct. 1.

“It just touched my heart. I just knew that I had to be here,” said Melanie Lynch, who drove an hour from Ruskin to the ceremony at Sarasota National Cemetery. “He served his country, I’m sure very proudly. 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.”

Edward Pearson, 80, of Naples died on Aug. 31 and he had no immediate family members, the 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,” said funeral director Michael Hoyt.

Pearson’s discharge papers said 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, also a veteran, requested his discharge papers so Pearson could be buried in a national cemetery, Hoyt said.

“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.

“We put a small notice in the Naples Daily News stating that he had passed away and there was no family that we knew of,” Hoyt said. “It was really enlightening to see social media react in such a positive way.’

As a family-run business, Hoyt said “seeing that response has been humbling.”

Officials weren’t sure how many people would attend, but Hoyt said a lot of people had been calling and saying they would come.

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