When the uniformed 95-year-old World War II veteran was caught on video encouraging participants during the San Jose 408K, he was the one who ended up getting the applause as a steady stream of runners took detours to thank him for his service.
Bell, who became a viral star after that race, died Thursday in San Jose, the San Jose Mercury News reported.
Bell’s son told the newspaper that his father was rejuvenated by the recognition he got by the viral clip.
“He wouldn’t have lasted nearly as long if it wasn’t for the love of the people who saw that video,” Matt Bell told the newspaper. “When someone said, ‘Hey, that’s Joe Bell!’ he’d stick his chest out. They’d say, ‘That meal’s on me.'”
Bell’s presence at the race was fitting since the charity event’s partner, the Pat Tillman Foundation, funds scholarships for military veterans and their spouses. J.T. Service, who founded the race, said that the video was viewed more than 3 million times because it touched a nerve with people nationwide.
“Why does it affect so many, so quickly?” Service wrote in a post paying tribute to Bell. “I believe it’s because we all know that veteran. Joe Bell is simply one of thousands of veterans and soldiers that have fought and continue to fight for this country. We all know a Joe Bell.”
According to the San Jose Mercury News, Bell was named grand marshal of a Fourth of July parade and the San Jose Giants, the minor-league affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, honored Bell with his own baseball card.