Saying Good-bye to another World War II Veteran

According to the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, the United States loses 492 World War II veterans every day.  In other words, every three minutes, a living memory of that great conflict disappears.

With similar rates in all the various countries with veterans, it is clear that several thousands of WW II veterans are passing on each day around the world. Certainly it is getting rare now to find a veteran who is less than 90 years old.  It is predicted that by the year 2036, the last living memory of the most momentous event in human history will pass away.

Perhaps this is one reason why the passing of a 95 year-old veteran, Joe Bell, in Santa Clara, California created such an impact.

A March 2014 video featuring Mr. Bell, clapping for runners in “Pat’s Run” as they jogged by his home, was named by many as the video clip of the year.  It was replayed countless times on all the national networks and on many web and specialty channels.

In the video Mr. Bell is looking dapper and healthy in his light brown Paratrooper Corporal’s uniform.  He served in the OSS (precursor to the CIA) from 1942 to 1946.  His main task was training paratroopers.  He modestly did not refer to himself as a hero, but he simply said that he was a “jumper.”

After the war, Mr. Bell worked as a machinist in San Jose and raised seven children with Mary, his wife of 67 years, who passed away four years ago, The Huffington Post reports.

By chance, the San Jose run went by his home and he took the occasion to don his old uniform and sit on his lawn chair to watch the runners go by.  At a certain point he stood and began to clap as the runners, most of whom would be less than half his age, jogged by.  As more and more runners went by, a few them of them returned the salute by clapping for him and then some began to veer off the course and on to the sidewalk in order to briefly shake his hand.  Many more followed and a touching video tribute that went viral was created by a journalist neighbour.

The local Triple A baseball team, the San Jose Giants, honored Mr. Bell by issuing a baseball card featuring him and by saluting him in person at one of their home games.

Pat’s Run is a race that honors Pat Tillman who left in the prime of a highly successful NFL career with the Arizona Cardinals in order to fight in Afghanistan after 9-11.  He was later killed in a somewhat controversial case of friendly fire.

The spontaneous celebration of Mr. Bell as a surviving veteran of an earlier war seemed to strike a special cord with the runners as well as the entire country.

Mr. Bell passed away on January 8 of this year.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE