San Jose Runners Take Detour to Thank World War II Veteran

Runners ran up to the man, shouting, "Thank you for your service"

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Mercury News reporter Julia Prodis Sulek grabbed an iPhone to capture dozens of runners spontaneously thanking 95-year-old World War II veteran Joe Bell who was outside his San Jose home to root on the runners in full military dress. Her video went viral. Bob Redell reports (Published Tuesday, Mar 4, 2014)

    When Mercury News reporter Julia Prodis Sulek woke up Sunday morning, she wasn't sure why she heard all the clapping and cheering outside her San Jose home.

    Then she peeked outside. She saw dozens of runners zipping by, up on the sidewalk, as part of the 408k Race to the Row, which benefits the Pat Tillman Foundation.

    All the commotion was for 95-year-old World War II veteran Joe Bell, who came outside in full military dress to root on the runners. But it was Bell who soon began getting all the attention.

    Runners spontaneously ran up to the elderly man fully decked out in his U.S. Army Airborne brown uniform, shaking his hands, shouting, "Thank you for your service."

    "It just kept happening in waves," Sulek said. "Over and over again. The runners were wonderful to give Joe that kind of respect."

    Even though it was her day off, Sulek grabbed her iPhone and documented the organic tribute to this veteran, who also happens to be her neighbor in his last decade of life. And it was even more fitting because the Pat Tillman foundation is named for the late NFL star killed while serving the U.S. Army in Afghanistan in 2002.

    Since she's also a reporter, she sent the video into work.

    It was a good decision.

    As of Tuesday afternoon, nearly 1 million people had seen it on the Mercury News website. The Today Show featured her video and a story online. Nightly News and NBC Bay Area also used Sulek's short footage and interviewed Bell about his service.

    For his part, Bell was taken aback that so many young people are interested in the story of a man who was born in Shanghai, survived the Rape of Nanking, was a "demolition jumper" for the Army in the 1940s and retired as a tool and dye maker.

    "I'm surprised," he said. "I didn't know there were that many people interested in WWII."

    What's an odd touch of irony is that Sulek is a print reporter. But like most reporters these days has learned multimedia skills, and her video is now being sought after by television stations. Runners World, USA Today, Yahoo News and other media outlets ran with the story.

    Sulek told NBC Bay Area that she's stunned at the response, and that she's extremely busy fielding calls from producers who want her now-viral video.

    "Jim often talks about how he doesn't expect to live much longer," Sulek said. "And I wanted to capture this moment for him and his family. It's thrilling that it's touching so many people."

    NBC Bay Area's Bob Redell contributed to this report.