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Runners' surprise tribute to WWII veteran goes viral

9:11 PM, Mar 4, 2014   |    comments
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World War II veteran Joe Bell was honored by runners at a charity race in San Jose on Sunday as he stood outside his home to cheer them on. (TODAY Show)

(USA TODAY/TODAY Show) Runners in a San Jose 8K stepped off course to thank 95-year-old World War II veteran Joe Bell for his service. He was dressed in full uniform to cheer from the sidelines.

San Jose Mercury News reporter and Bell's neighbor Julia Prodis Sulek captured the event on video at the race Sunday. The race benefits the Pat Tillman Foundation, which provides military veterans with scholarships. Tillman was a football player in the NFL before leaving to go into the U.S. Army, where he was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan.

"I looked out my window and said 'Why are these people running on the sidewalk,'" Sulek told USA TODAY. "He is my neighbor and he is the sweetest guy."

She says she thought she was going to miss the spontaneous tribute by the time she got outside, but the runners just kept coming.

"It was an amazing thing," Sulek says. "I think he was surprised and touched. I asked him, why was he in uniform? He said he just wanted to inspire the runners."

The event benefits the Pat Tillman Foundation, which provides scholarships to military veterans and their spouses. Pat Tillman was a football star at Leland High School in San Jose before starring at Arizona State and in the NFL for the Arizona Cardinals. He left the Cardinals in 2002 and became an Army Ranger, serving several tours of duty. In 2004, he was killed in Afghanistan by friendly fire.

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