SARASOTA, Fla. - Members of the Patriot Guard Riders are standing for those who stood for us. When a veteran passes away and there is no immediate family, Blair McFarlane and his wife, Kim, make sure the veteran is honored the way every hero should be.
Blair showed us page after page with the name of a veteran for whom the Patriot Guard Riders aim to give a proper farewell.
He read a list of names, "Earnest D. Bottoms, Jr., Pfc., U.S. Army, Robert Stephen Parell, Jr. Pfc. in the Army," and said "All of these five gentlemen had no family, so we were their family for that day."
Tuesday, Blair held a flag at the funeral service of Army veteran Edward Pearson, who died alone at the age of 80. More than 2,000 attended his service, brought together by a social media post saying Pearson had no family to attend his service, so the public was welcome to come -- and they did.
"They all deserve that. I thought that it was wonderful. I would love for that to happen for every single one. Sadly it doesn't," said McFarlane.
Normally, there are far fewer attendees at services for veterans with no known family. The Sarasota National Cemetery said two dozen will usually show up.
"There have been close to 80 Mr. Pearson's already this year, this calendar year, out at Sarasota National Cemetery," said McFarland.
His wife Kim wants others to realize what goes on.
"We want more people to know it’s happening. It’s not a once in a while occurrence. It happens every single day in every city, county, and state," she said.
Sarasota National Cemetery notifies veterans groups and those who want to attend through email.
The Knights of Columbus has been there for 544 services.
"We've been doing it since May 2010 since the cemetery shortly opened. I have personally attended 516," said Bob Marrah, a 4th degree Knights of Columbus member.
Marrah hopes the respect Mr. Pearson received will carry on to the next veteran left behind.
"There are many stories for the people who are laid to rest and those who have no family no one to be there to be recognized. I think many people would love to recognize veterans and this is one way to do it,” he said.
If you'd like to find out more about unclaimed veteran funerals, call Sarasota National Cemetery at (941)-922-7200 or contact one of these groups:
- Sarasota County Veterans Commission - http://www.sarasotaveteranscommission.com/
- Patriot Guard Riders - https://www.patriotguard.org/mission/heros-without-family-16/
- Knights of Columbus - http://www.victorykofc.org/dt/Contact.aspx
- Vietnam Brotherhood - https://www.facebook.com/vietnambrotherhood/
For more information on events at Sarasota National Cemetery, visit www.remembervets.us.