This week offered a reminder that the power of social media still can unite rather than divide. And it started largely on Twitter, as these stories often do, with references to the newspaper obituary of a Florida veteran that read: “This Veteran has no immediate family. All are welcome to attend.”
By Sunday afternoon, the word had circulated, with CNN anchor Jake Tapper and others retweeting the story and asking residents to attend. The thought of a veteran without any living family members being laid to rest with no one to recognize his service became a rallying cry for the state.
Tuesday’s funeral for veteran Edward K. Pearson demonstrated just how far that rallying cry reached. About 1,500 people came to the mid-day interment, the largest turnout for an unclaimed veteran in Sarasota National Cemetery’s 10 years of operation. When the Tampa Bay Times’ Craig Pittman drove to the cemetery to cover the funeral, he found himself in a traffic jam.
There is something universal about showing up to honor a veteran. “If you’ve got a V behind your name for ‘veteran,’ then we’re here for you,” said a Navy veteran attendee from Tampa. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a Trump supporter or an Obama supporter or a Hillary (Clinton) supporter, we’re here for you.” A woman from Bradenton said she hailed from a military family and Pearson would have been around the same age as her father. Although the message started on social media, Pearson’s funeral became something deeply personal for many who attended. Their only important commonality: respect for a veteran.
The turnout for Pearson’s funeral is a heartwarming reminder of the kindness of strangers brought together through common bonds even in an era of great divisiveness. Social media too often foments anger and dissent. This time, it united a community.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.