Veteran's legacy honored at San Jose race

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KTVU) - Last year, during the "408k Race to the Row" in San Jose, a 95-year-old WWII veteran put on his uniform and stood outside his home to cheer on runners. It was called "The Joe Bell Moment."

Now, after Joe Bell's death, his legacy is being honored by other veterans.

Mile three of the 8k race through a residential neighborhood in San Jose is now known as the Pat Tillman and Joe Bell Memorial Mile.

Pat Tillman was a San Jose native and former Arizona Cardinals pro football player, who quit his job to enlist in the army after 9/11.

He was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan. The race benefits the Pat Tillman scholarship foundation created by his family. Joe Bell was the new honoree at the Memorial Mile.

On that Memorial Mile, a record player spins a 1940s soundtrack in the background, while about two dozen military veterans lined the race route, holding signs and cheering on runners.

"I teared up just going by it. Yeah. It's touching," said Marines Veteran, Nando Gonzales, of San Jose.

The older generation of veterans at the race, the people doing the cheering and high-fives, got some appreciation in return. Many of the runners thanked them for their service.

The veterans, both young and old, hope they're part of a new tradition inspired by Bell's actions.

During last year's race, Bell donned his uniform and stood outside his home on the race route to wave to everyone going by.

When runners saw Bell in his uniform, many of them clapped and stopped to thank him for his service.

"It was just so spontaneous, genuine, heart-felt. A WWII veteran, there are not too many of them left. It gave you an extra boost and incentive to finish the race with your chest held high," said military veteran Bertrand Newson, who ran the race last year and remembers seeing Bell.

The exchange was captured on video. It went viral, and during the last chapter of Bell's life, he made friends and fans around the world.

"It's nothing he tried to do, but that's just the way he was," said Bell's son, Charlie Bell. "He would always say, howdy, how you doing? He would say some military sayings, his favorite one was 'give 'm hell' if he met other veterans."

Bell passed away in January. In his honor, race organizers created the Memorial Mile.

"We thought we could maybe replicate what happened with the viral video, the Joe Bell moment and maybe do it with dozens of veterans," Race Director, JT Service explained.

Veterans of all ages came out to support the cause and cheer on the runners.

"I feel very humbled by it, I certainly do," said Travis Hyatt, a veteran paratrooper who fought in WWII and Korea. "I made my first plane ride and first parachute jump in the same day."

Hyatt said as the runners went by, sharing their smiles and gratitude, "I think of all of those who are no longer with us, including Joe. I had the best intention to go over to see him and I just couldn't make it."

Throughout the morning, runners stopped by Joe Bell's house to take a picture and pay their respects to his family.

"To see the people come by and get really emotional about our father is really, really striking, emotionally," Charlie Bell said.